cruising sailboats with centerboards

9 Best Cruising Catamarans With Daggerboards or Centerboards!

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Many sailing enthusiasts shopping for their first cruising catamaran might find it rather challenging to determine the best choice for their needs. If you’re in the market for a cruising catamaran with a daggerboard, then look no further. I have done the research and built a list of nine of the best daggerboard catamarans. 

The best cruising catamarans with daggerboards or centerboards provide great cruising capability, comfortable living, ease of handling, and strong construction. Based on different styles, designs, sizes, and prices, some of the best catamarans are Outremer 45, Catana 50, and Balance 526. 

If catamaran cruising is a passion you have been longing to pursue, keep reading. You might find your dream boat and become inspired to make your cruising vacation a reality.  

Dagger/Centerboards and Their Role in Catamaran Sailing

Unlike a traditional sailboat with a single hull (monohull), a catamaran balances on two hulls, with the sails sitting in the middle. Some catamarans come equipped with daggerboards (or centerboards) whose work is to balance the force of the wind acting on the sails.

Understanding the difference between centerboards and daggerboards can help you make an informed decision when selecting a sailboat or when considering modifications to your current vessel.

If you’re sailing a catamaran with daggerboards, you’d raise the daggerboard on the leeward hull while fully extending the upwind daggerboard. This improves the catamaran’s stability when sailing windward during heavy conditions. The adjustment thus makes the boat less susceptible to capsizing. 

When will a catamaran capsize?

Should You Choose a Catamaran With Daggerboards?

In general, catamarans with daggerboards perform far, much better than those without. That’s because the boat’s design focuses heavily on performance. What’s more, renowned experts design the boats with the best hulls and make the boats lighter by tweaking the materials used. 

In general, catamarans with daggerboards perform far, much better than those without.

So, if you’re looking to reach speeds of 28 all the way up to 30 knots (55 km/h), then choose a cruising catamaran equipped with daggerboards. When sailing upwind, such catamarans sail much closer to the wind and are way faster than their comfort-focused counterparts. In comparison, most traditional cruising boats can only manage 10-15 knots (18-27 km/h).

What makes the catamaran so fast, and why is this type of boat even faster?

  • You can cover much longer distances in a day with a daggerboard catamaran.
  • Their high speed allows for faster ocean crossings. 
  • They deliver superior performance, particularly in upwind directions.
  • You can anchor your catamaran on shallow waters – after raising the boards.
  • A faster cruiser means additional safety since you can outrun a storm or avoid an incoming one. 
  • They entail more work and maintenance. 
  • They require you to learn how to operate them safely. 
  • They are expensive – daggerboards come with an additional amount of up to $30.000 on the construction price.
  • The daggerboard compartment consumes some of the space from the hull’s living area, thus limiting your comfort.

Now, let’s have a look at some of the best cruising catamarans with daggerboards.

The Dolphin Ocema 42

The Dolphin Ocema 42 is a cruising catamaran built in Northern Brazil. The boat comes equipped with daggerboards and can thus point higher windward. But it also boasts a smaller wet surface when running and can pull with ease into shallower anchorages – 3 feet ( 0.91m) or less. That means that you can anchor your catamaran far from the crowd (or beach it ), then walk ashore. It also gives you more anchorage space to choose from.

However, it’s important to note that: 

  • Raising the Dolphin’s daggerboards means exposing her rudders from underwater hazards. 
  • The daggerboard could place the hull’s integrity at risk in case of a grounding. 
  • The trunk consumes valuable interior space. 

Created by designer Philipe Pouvreau, the Dolphin 42 is the only Dolphin model that boasts daggerboards. The boat strives hard to balance performance and comfortable cruising in a compact package. As a result, the cruising catamaran sports a foam core which helps in reducing its overall weight. 

While some of the Dolphins built later at various custom shipyards bear some additions or structural modifications, most Dolphins are high-quality, safe, comfortable, and perform successful circumnavigations.  

Pricing : $220,000-$350,000

The Outremer 45

The Outremer 45 is a Gerard Danson design. This classic cruising catamaran is unique in that it didn’t undergo mass production like most multihulls. Instead, the French Outremer came from a semi-production manufacturing line where all interior parts are laminated directly to the hull, forming an extremely stiff structure.

This classic cruising catamaran is unique in that it didn’t undergo mass production like most multihulls.

One downside to this catamaran is that it comes with a much smaller interior than other boats. Also, it doesn’t come cheap. However, everything else about the Outremer makes it the perfect sailor’s boat because:

  • It’s highly responsive to the helm.
  • It has a high bridge deck clearance.
  • It comes with well-proportioned bows.
  • It features balanced weight distribution, which helps to minimize pitching.

Earlier models featured soft canvas bimini (optional) covering a stainless framework, while later ones had optional overhead composite panels. The latter provides a better option since canvas tends to become waterlogged when it rains. 

You can order the Outremer 45 as an owner version, a club version with additional berths, or a four-cabin layout. 

Pricing: $320,000-$560,000

The Atlantic 42

The Atlantic 42’s efficiency and aesthetics have resulted in the growth of a massive loyal following. Despite being the smallest of the Atlantic cruising catamarans, the A42 is quite popular with sailors due to its ocean-faring capabilities, ease of handling, and excellent use of space. This catamaran embodies a true classic right from the forward cockpit, through the pilothouse, the sleeping cabins, to the galleys.

Unlike other catamarans, the Atlantic 42 has a waist-high cockpit located in front of the pilothouse and behind the mast. It boasts a solid construction owing to the large metal bearers running over the bulkheads.

Unlike other catamarans, the Atlantic 42 has a waist-high cockpit located in front of the pilothouse and behind the mast.

This setup provides the boat with maximum strength, better air circulation beneath the engine, and high flexibility when it comes to engine size and positioning. 

At first, the vessel’s style and outlook appeared rather conservative, but with time, it was evident that the Atlantic 42 was a long-lasting catamaran built using high-quality materials. The boat’s exterior looks stunning, and the interior is quite impressive as well, while spacious aft cabin accommodation and shower compartments are an additional bonus.

Pricing: Contact Chris White Designs

The Gunboat 62

If you’re looking for a vessel that can fit all your gear plus more during your voyages, then the Gunboat 62 is the ideal cruising catamaran for you. And guess what? You can stuff all your gear and equipment in this vessel and still outperform a similar-sized racing monohull. The boat’s helm seat is not only comfortable but also offers 360-degree visibility, ample storage space, a working surface, and a luxurious cabin. 

The Gunboat 62 is among the best top-performing catamarans in the market, and this particular series set up the Gunboat brand. It performs incredibly well during storms with speeds of 35 knots (64.82 km/hr) and beyond despite its epoxy, E-glass, and carbon-fiber build. Furthermore, its design features a distinct angular outline, quite unlike most similar-sized catamarans. 

The Gunboat 62 is among the best top-performing catamarans in the market, and this particular series set up the Gunboat brand

Since it’s light in weight, this catamaran can sail upwind at speeds above 17 knots (31.48 km/h) while pinching up to 30 degrees. Indeed, this catamaran boat can easily tack through 95 degrees and still manage to outshine the fastest racing monohull. And, like most performance catamaran cruisers, the Gunboat 62 can reach almost 20 knots (37.004 km/h) under the right conditions.  

Pricing: Contact Gunboat

Check out this list of the fastest cruising Cats on the market!

Gemini 105Mc

The Gemini 105Mc is the ideal cruising catamaran for you if you’re in the market for a boat to use for weekend sailing trips. The boat is also comfortable enough for long cruising vacations since it boasts spacious accommodation, great design, and delivers a stable cruising platform. 

This vessel is more of a sailing cottage. Designed by the renowned Tony Smith, the 35 feet (10.6m) floating cottage is also cozy, safe, and good value for money since its price is quite reasonable.

This vessel is more of a sailing cottage.

The boat comes with incredibly slim, teardrop-shaped hulls with flat bottoms and a smaller wetted surface, allowing for minimal drag. It also leads towards more leeway when under sail. The hulls sport a kick-up centerboard which helps to enhance the catamaran’s windward pointing abilities. Furthermore, the rudders rise to enable the boat to cruise in shallow waters with ease, while most vessels tend to run aground.

The Gemini 105Mc has a narrow beam measuring about 40% of its length. This is quite unlike today’s beams at 50%. Still, the boat’s low center keeps it upright, stable, and safe. Although no longer in production, you can still purchase a preowned Gemini 105Mc . 

Pricing: Contact Gemini Catamarans

The Catana 50

There are only 2 Catana production sites in France, this guarantees exceptionally high-quality standards in every boat. The Catana infrastructure is more advanced than that of other catamarans and features spacious bridge-deck clearance and a high freeboard. In addition, its curved daggerboards drastically reduce the drag, while crash boards ensure the buoyancy of any of the Cantana models.  

The Catana 50’s daggerboards angle slightly inward to maximize lift under sail and enhance lateral resistance underwater. They are thus more effective than the long but shallow keels found in other catamarans. As a result, this catamaran performs exceptionally well to windward. When sailing off the wind, raising the boards helps to minimize drag.

The Catana 50 is an ultramodern catamaran designed to make long-distance passages easy and safe. This massive sailboat measures almost 50 feet (15.24m) long and sports a beam of around 26 feet (7.92 m). Most people consider it the best-built and most fashionable cruising catamaran, but the boat is bound to test your sailing skills if you plan to sail it solo.  

The Catana 50 is an ultramodern catamaran designed to make long-distance passages easy and safe.

The amazing catamaran features a rig that allows you to use a screecher or a self-tending jib. While this might sound complex, the Catana 50 is fairly easy to tack once you set out on the course.

This performance-oriented catamaran boasts efficient hulls and rigs that allow for fast speeds. Also, its long waterline, along with the bow’s subtle underwater shape, helps boost volume while lessening wave drag. The stern platforms can also aid in stretching the length of the waterline while allowing easy access from a dock. If a collision were to occur, the sturdy board trunks would protect the hulls. 

Pricing: About $1.4 million

McConaghy MC50

The McConaghy MC50 launched in 2018. A fast cruising cat designed to cross oceans, this catamaran came with impressive features such as a skylight smack in the center of the coachroof that allows light to flood in. Also, the saloon has an extending table that provides adequate space for up to eight diners and converts into a lounging room when you install the fill-in cushion. 

The galley boasts an induction hob and molded-in sinks, while a navigation station occupies a spot at the front of the saloon – providing good visibility and systems access. The vessel’s unique design simulates a penthouse apartment on the deck with 35 to 40m2 (376.74 to 430.56ft2) of space, possibly the largest in a 50ft (15.24m) yacht.

The MC50’s 3.5m-deep (11.48ft) hydraulic centerboards boost the boat’s upwind performance and include a fail-safe if an underwater collision occurs. The boards take only 12 seconds to raise. This catamaran delivers great pace and upwind capability, all wrapped up in a high-quality, stylish, and roomy interior.

The key to the MC50’s outstanding performance is the optimized hull shape and the 40% carbon fiber lay-up, which result in greater stiffness. Exhibiting great engineering detail, the hydraulic centreboards swing into the hulls, providing a welcome solution to the challenge of having daggerboards without eating up too much accommodation space. 

Pricing: Contact McConaghy Boats .

Atlantic 47 Mastfoil

The Atlantic 47 is one of Chris White’s spectacular designs. It places the cockpit forward of the deckhouse, the aft deck sits behind the pilothouse, and the large pilothouse has easy hull access.

This unique design enhances the safety and functionality of the Atlantic 47 as it provides the crew with full forward visibility and easy, safe access to the sailing controls. It also transforms the traditional deckhouse into an appealing and more comfortable pilothouse.  

All Atlantic cats come equipped with daggerboards, with the majority sporting vertically retracting ones. That’s because to sail upwind really well, a catamaran requires deep, well-shaped hydrofoils underneath the boat to enable it to claw windward.

An excellent top performer, the Atlantic 47 combines great cruising capability, comfortable living, and ease of handling. This spacious boat also boasts a generous aft deck, a high all-around bulwark, and a starboard walk-through for quick and easy access to the dinghy.

All Atlantic Cats sport an impressive safety record owing to their robust construction, innovative design, and easy handling. Besides, the indoor watch-keeping capability helps to minimize crew fatigue, allowing safe and more enjoyable cruising. To further enhance their safety, all boats contain watertight collision bulkheads in addition to emergency capsize habitation. 

Pricing : Contact Chris White Designs .

The Balance 526 

A passion for building the best-performing cruising catamaran d esigned for speed, comfort, and perfect for families . The ability to carry cruising payloads inspired the Balance 526 . Designed by a team highly experienced in sailing, cruising, racing, and building catamarans, the 526 is simple to operate, maintain, and offers gracious, elegant living.

With state-of-the-art beds, showers, cabinetry, and finishes, the European-styled interiors feature high-end interior design. What’s more, you can pilot this exceptional vessel single-handed owing to the innovative design, reefing station, and self-tending blade jib . These features allow almost anyone to maneuver the catamaran safely through any weather.

If you’re seeking optimal performance under sail, you can configure this cruising catamaran with either dual daggerboards or high-performance fixed keels . The great thing about using the fully retractable dual daggerboards is that you can sail in shallow waters and beach your catamaran without any problems. 

To enhance upwind performance, place the boards in the down position, and raise them to improve off wind performance. In dangerous cross seas, the Balance 526 side-slips prevent the tripping effect related to large fin-keeled catamarans. 

The balance 526 comes with the all-weather Versahelm design. A first in catamaran design, it accords serious cruisers the best of both worlds. You can slide open the hardtop and sail in the open air during fair weather, close it in foul weather, and get into the aft cockpit. The down position allows you to scan around as you look for docking and provides a warm, safe, and comfy place to pilot the 526 in any weather.

To combat fatigue, the Balance 526 thoughtfully comes with adjustable helm chairs. There’s also a retractable helm standing platform that you can raise to increase sightlines whenever you pilot over the bows, navigate narrow channels, or cluttered estuaries. 

Strong but light, this vessel weighs under 12.5 tons (11,339.81 kg). Hence, if you ever need to outrun or position away from bad weather, the Balance 526 will speedily and safely take you wherever you need to go. 

Pricing : Contact Balance Catamarans

Final Thoughts

As you can see from this list, cruising catamarans with daggerboards are available in a wide range of designs, styles, and sizes. This can make choosing the best one a bit overwhelming. Still, whether you’re looking to get a catamaran at a bargain, an exceptional performer, or a classic, there’s a boat to suit every need and budget.  

The best thing is to look beyond the fancy designs, layout, or equipment and consider fundamentals. These include sound construction, a good sail plan, cruising capability, ease of handling, and comfortable living.

  • Wikipedia: Daggerboard
  • McConaghy Boats: McConaghy Boats
  • Sail magazine: 10 Great Cruising Cats
  • Sail magazine: Catana 50
  • Gunboat: Home
  • Gemini Catamarans: Home
  • Gemini Catamarans: Gemini 105Mc Design Touch Overview
  • Chris White Designs: Atlantic 47 Mastfoil
  • Chris White Designs: Home
  • Catamaran-Outremer: Outremer 45
  • Sail How: Which Catamarans Have Daggerboards?
  • Yachting World: Performance cruisers: the best new catamarans for racing and fast cruising 2018
  • Dreamy Yacht Sales: Best Catamaran Brands Guide – 6 Top Catamarans
  • Hellenic Shipping News: Daggerbards in Demand on Cruising Boats
  • Balance Catamarans: The Perfect Harmony of Performance and Livability
  • Multihulls-World: Catamaran Basics the Daggerboards: Understanding and Adjusting Them

Owner of A minimalist that has lived in a caravan in Sweden, 35ft Monohull in the Bahamas, and right now in his self-built Van. He just started the next adventure, to circumnavigate the world on a Catamaran!

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Centerboards on cruising boats?

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Considering moving up to a Morgan 34 - boat has a long keel - draws about 3.5 feet and a centerboard that adds about 4.5 feet when lowered - not really a( heavily) ballasted board just for better windward sailing. Not sure if it is worth the hassle - when working properly - yes - but things that could go wrong: broken raising mechanism or line ( wire) banging about while at anchor centerboard trunk getting encased with barnacles ( boat in Florida) It does increase sailing performance and allow to get into shallower areas - especially helpful for keys and Bahamas Anyone with experience with centerboards on cruising boats have some thoughts?  


CB down while on anchor greatly reduces both roll and noise. If you do preventive maintenance on the BC, there should be no sudden failures. Barnacles are broken down by using the CB, or at least going up and down on it at least once a month. It would not be my first choice for serious offshore passages, but that lower draft comes in very handy when cruising.  


I am a big fan of keel-centerboard boats. I have sailed on quite a few over the years and my Father owned a 42 foot keel centerboard boat in Florida for a long time. I think that they are a super way to keep decent performance while being able to sail into shallower venues. With the centerboard down, they generally point quite well, and with the board up they are quick downwind. You can also bring the board part way up to help balance weather helm. There is some more maintenance to a centerboard boat, but assuming that the boat is in decent shape, the additional maintenance is nothing extreme and certainly not enough to rule out buying one. I have always heard people claim that centerboard boats 'clunk' on the anchor. I have not experienced that, even in a pretty rolly anchorage. The Morgan 34 was a particularly nice boat for that era. They sailed very well across a broad range of conditions. There was two versions, one with a long keel and attached rudder and a second version with a shorter keel and a skeg hung rudder. (The long keel versions offer no real advantages and skeg-hung rudder version sailed better all around but are rarer than the long keel.) Morgan 34's were lovely boats to look at. They were pretty well built compared to something like a Pearson or Columbia of the era. They came in several different interior finish levels from simulated wood Formica bulkheads and to a more upscale scheme with nicely finished varnished mahogany plywood bulkheads, both with mahogany trim, and later I think they may have had teak plywood and teak trim. I have seen these boats with Herreshoff style interiors (White bulkheads with mahogany trim) but suspect that was an owner who painted out the Formica. I would at least look at the boat (and listen for clunking when a powerboat wake hits.) Jeff  


We love our board. We use it all the time, sailing and at anchor. Beyond the obvious deeper draft/better windward ability, it can also be used to trim the boat, easing weather or lee helm. There's nothing in the centerboard rule book that states it must be all the way up, or down. At anchor, it eases the roll when the anchorage is a bit lumpy and we sail a lot less at anchor with the board part way down. As for the mechanism failing, I don't see any reason to suspect a problem with it if one maintains it as one should any important gear aboard. We seem to get almost no growth inside the trunk or on the board that is inside the trunk. Tropical growth may require more light than can get in there or perhaps the water gets stagnant and hasn't enough air to support growth? Anyway, both here and in RI it hasn't been a problem. If you really need a detraction, many centerboard trunks can develop leaks, and they can be very expensive to fix. Many times the owners will just close up the slot instead.  

Skipper Jer

What about pounding to weather with the board down? Does the board slam up and down? Also, ever have water enter the cabin via the slot in rough weather? I was on a Moody 419 that had a hydraulic system to rise/lower the board. I didn't think boards were so heavy as to require hydraulics. Also, and this may seem trivial but does the cable sing with the board down?  

If the board is down all the way, it will bang a bit, now and then. @ a reputed 2500# I doubt ours will slam up and down. A few drops of water came up the cable tube when we occasionally sat on the bottom in the slip in East Greenwich, RI and heeled over a bit, but never underway or at anchor. Just cut a bit of hose to raise the top of the tube a few inches. The cable remains inside the trunk at all times . The top of the board is not hanging down below the boat to waggle about. The full length of the board is supported by the trunk.  


Good thread, pertinent info since we are in the market for center cockpit center board boat. Since most everything is encased in the trunk how does one know the board, pivot pin (hope that is what it is called), pin bushing and cable and attachment are all in serviceable condition? Taking the board out for inspection doesn't sound like a few hour job.  


Have a Pearson 35 of the same era with a center board. Basically only use the board in the harbor to decrease turning radius and sailing hard on the wind. Board doesn't make any noise on the wind. If the board is down off the wind and boat rolling heavily, it will bang. Since I find it only really helps on the wind, not an issue on other points of sail. At anchor, the board will bang if lowered. No need to lower it so never a problem unless I forget to raise it. Have never had a problem with fouling in the trunk or the lifting mechanism in the going on 12 years I've owned the boat. Did have another CB boat that ate the cables regularly. High strength synthetic would cure that problem today. Nice to have the added windward ability the board affords when needed and not have the drag when it's not. Boat is plenty stiff. The board is encapsulated in the ballast so no leak issues.  


I have the Morgan 24/25and my dock neighbor has the 34. His 34 is the early version with a bronze board mine is the fiberglass encapsulated. There is little board motion in either boat Both of us restored the boards soup to nuts and are delighted wth the handling as a result. in a 45 year old boat reolacing the bronze pin pennant cable and if necessary sime of the bilge sheaves wasnt a big deal and assured good operation. The cable connectd to the inner hull via a stainless tube which slides through a stuffing box. the packing is easily replaced which allows a good seal without impeding the sliding motion. I keep the gland nut hand tight and it remains leak free. ThT 34 is a lovely handling boat and brighten the decor and youve got a nice boat. I wish you the best! Sent from my SAMSUNG-SM-G930A using Tapatalk  


I've had centerboards and a swing keel over a period of 46 years and have never had a problem with barnacles in the trunk. My current boat (since 1996) has a 3000# swing keel. It never bangs at anchor but will bang almost imperceptibly in a confused sea. Never had a failure with any of these boats, but have done preventative maintenance like replacing pennants on a 10-15 yr cycle. I did upgrade the 1.5" dia swing keel pin from 304 to 316 SS to address a pitting issue that resulted in weeping at the inboard seals. There was never a concern about mechanical failure with the old pin, but I am aware of horror stories with in-water failure of the smaller diameter pins on older CB boats. Worth checking for wear as part of a survey.  


Never owned one but have raced or cruised several as crew. Hinckley Bermuda 40 banged to point couldn't sleep on Marion race. Light air with big swell running ~50 awa thing had non rhythmic bang. Ted Hood design had light grounding while swinging at anchor. Afterward board wouldn't go up or down. Hauled and found gravel in slot. Hard to pick out. Nevertheless, think a wonderful concept. Was seriously thinking of having a Boreal built for me as the lack of freedom from low draft is limiting. Now thinking about lifting keels. Jeff what is your thinking about those? Seems you would get better avs as can have a lead bulb. Better windward performance as no limitation on chord shape. Less wetted surface as no trunk as in keel/centerboard. My concern is damage in a grounding with keel down.  

My Chrysler 26 has a lifting keel. actually it has a 3/4 half keel also, best of both worlds I guess. I can sail with the drop keel up most of the time for more speed. Or I can have it down to point better or in rough weather. I never hear it at all. As far as grounding that is what I like about it the most. when going slow in new territory looking for anchorage or what ever I have it down. When it stops the boat I know I am too shallow, so I just raise it up and backtrack or deviate. Much easier than trying to get pulled off. I believe it is 2000# Herreshoff design.  

My Tartan 27's original board lasted 48 years before I rebuilt it! Not a bad run I'd say. I had to repair the pennant once. With my current rebuild of the pennant, board and pin, I expect the board to outlive me. As to use, even though the Tartan had to be designed to sail effectively without the board, per MORC standards, the performance with the board is lightyears better on all points of sail. I get some clunking on a reach, but nothing to drive you batty. A couple of days ago I anchored out the clean the bottom. I dropped the board and it was very clean (although I was embarrassed by the rest of the bottom. Been a little lazy diving this season). Growth is retarded when the board is in the trunk. The only other issue I've ever had was running aground in pebble/rocky bottoms and small rocks get stuck in the trunk, preventing the board from dropping. A dive with a screwdriver usually fixes this. Good luck. Skywalker  


I have a New Bombay Trading Company Explorer 44 with a center board. I spend hurricane season in a bay in Grenada. Fouling in the center board casing is an issue. Some barnacles but the real problem critters are the mangrove oysters. I can pay a diver to clean them out with a machete or I can set off with a little slack in the cable. As soon as the board drops I slacken it off a little more. Repeat. This crunches up the critters. The boat yard I use [ Carriacou Marine ] gives me time in slings to clean out the casing and antifoul the board.  

Jeff, one word, Mega 30. OK two words but that boat had a lifting keel with bulb. A co-worker had one in Florida he sailed. Complained about the roller and keel corrosion at the contact point. Think it had a single lifting point for retraction.  

The Mega 30 had a cast iron keel and I don't think that they had rollers. I think that they had hard plastic pads that acted as bearings and rode up the side of the keel removing paint over time. I had hoped to avoid that by using rollers and not having the bearing surface be metal, or use something like embedded Monel plates if it was metal. Jeff  

I have a Freedom 33 with cb, the cb weght is more than a ton and you need a winch to raise. Howewer i do not have any problems with noise or bernacles. Once i get stuck in a reef and i only raise the cb to get the boat free. The only downside is that my cb trunck is in the middle of the saloon and will split the main cabin in two. I can anchor were no others can and is very easy to move up and down. Take a look on youtube about the new Garcia 45 sailboat, i think this is the trend for many new sailboats.  

K&M has been building 53' high latitude boats with lifting keels in Al to a Dystra design for over a decade now. With some tweaks it's my dreamboat.  


Our centerboard is our secret weapon to windward. Never an issue with fouling. Only clunk I have ever heard is when the admiral let the line slip when lowering it to quickly  


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What’s the deal with Centerboards?

Most of you who have followed our journey for some time are familiar with our somewhat infamous centerboard issue, where we ran aground in the Illinois river in 8′ of water when our boat should only draw 4′ .  This was the most dramatic and expensive example of the issues we’ve had with the centerboard thus far, but that’s not to say it’s been the only trouble our centerboard has caused us.

In this week’s video, This Little Thing could SINK our Boat , we’re highlighting another pain point and some of the additional maintenance that comes along with having a pivoting centerboard. We’d like to take this opportunity to talk a little bit about the pros and cons of the centerboard system and shed some light on how we’ve been using it with real life examples.

Sailors love to talk shop. It seems everyone has an opinion when it comes to boats, and if you’re not too careful, it can lead lead to hours upon hours of enjoyable and sometimes educational discussion. Invariably anytime we get beyond the general pleasantries of “She’s a beaut!” or “What’s the length?” we know with more and more certainty that we’re talking with a sailor. As the questions get more specific e.g. “How much fuel do you carry?” or “How tall is the mast?” we will eventually hit this question: “What’s the draft?”

Up until this point, it’s only a Q&A session, but as soon as we divulge the boat has a centerboard — and that with the board up we draw between 4-4.5′ but when it’s down closer to 8′ — the discussion will turn one of three ways:

  • The questioner wasn’t quite prepared for that answer and is dumbstruck because they didn’t know as much about boats as they thought they did, and were unaware of the centerboard concept or are unaware a boat of our size could have a centerboard.
  • The questioner’s face lights up with a twinkle in their eye and responds with something like: “A perfect Bahamas boat, nice!”
  • The questioner’s face scrunches up with terror in their eyes: “Why on god’s green earth would you want to maintain a system like that!”

And after three years of owning, maintaining and traveling aboard a boat with a centerboard, we’ve been in each of these 3 camps at one point or another. Let’s dive in and tackle each point of view.

cruising sailboats with centerboards

What is a centerboard on a sailboat?

A centerboard is a retractable appendage that pivots in and out of a slot (centerboard trunk) in the hull/keel of a sailboat. Having the ability to raise and lower the centerboard allows the the boat to operate in shallow waters when lifted, while maintaining good upwind sailing characteristics with the centerboard down. Similarly, lifting the centerboard reduces the wetted surface area, resulting in lower drag while sailing downwind. This combination of characteristics makes it possible to build a safe, seaworthy boat, capable of easily sailing upwind off a lee shore, while still allowing the boat to tuck way up into shallow anchorages when necessary.

cruising sailboats with centerboards

When first looking for our sailboat , weren’t specifically looking for a boat with a centerboard. It wasn’t on any “avoid ” list of ours either; it just wasn’t on our radar. So when we first saw the boat online and noticed it had a centerboard, we were pretty ambivalent about it.

Is that like a Swing Keel?

Many people have incorrectly referred to our boat as having a swing keel, and for good reason as they are quite similar on the surface. Before finding our boat, we were aware of other boats with swing keels (specifically Southerly Yachts  popularized by “ Distant Shores “) and some of their unique benefits. While the swing keel is similar on the surface, it’s an entirely different animal from our centerboard. They both feature large underwater wing-shaped appendages that pivot from underneath the boat to provide additional wetted surface area to reduce leeway and increase lift for sailing upwind. The main difference is that in a swing keel boat the pivoting appendage is actually the keel. In cruising boats, swing keels weigh several thousand pounds, while centerboards weigh a couple hundred. Thus, a swing keel also contains a large part of the boat’s ballast, so the position of the keel can have a substantial effect on the stability and motion of the boat. Additionally, when retracted all the way up into the hull, the boat can be left to dry out while sitting upright in the sand — pretty cool.

cruising sailboats with centerboards

Distant Shores II, a Southerly 480

The flip side is this: In the fully retracted position, the keel needs somewhere to go — which takes up interior volume of the boat. Additionally, moving an extremely large and heavily ballasted keel up and down requires some serious mechanical gear, and unless the swing keel is lowered to some extent, there is nothing counteracting the force of the sails to prevent leeway and the boat will not sail to windward.

Whereas with our boat, in addition to the centerboard, we have a shoal draft keel (which actually doubles as a housing for the centerboard). Even without the centerboard down the boat will still sail to windward. Dropping the centerboard only serves to increase the pointing ability and windward performance. The centerboard does not contribute meaningfully to the ballast of the boat (as it weighs about 200lbs), so its effects on stability in the up or down position are muted. It is designed primarily as a hydrofoil to prevent leeway when sailing upwind and is significantly lighter than its swing keel cousin. Lastly, by retracting into the keel instead of all the way into the hull it does not have any negative effect on the interior volume of the boat.

What are the benefits of having a centerboard on a sailboat?

Besides increased upwind sailing performance, the major benefit of a boat with a centerboard is a shallow draft. For our needs navigating the inland river system, sailing the notoriously shallow Gulf of Mexico , and cruising Bahamaian waters, these are fantastic qualities to have in a boat.

The inland river system has a controlled depth of no less than 9′ in the channel from Chicago to Mobile, Alabama, but most of the channel is significantly deeper than that. However , s earching for marinas and anchorages for the night where you have to exit the channel means the depths start changing quickly. With our shoal draft keel we were able to sneak into a number of marinas with sub 5′ depth at their entrance or at the dock that would’ve been impossible in many other sailboats of our size. Even in Mobile we ran aground twice while moving through the marina to get to our dock.

cruising sailboats with centerboards

In the Bahamas we find ourselves anchoring way up towards shore with the catamarans instead of much further out near the monohulls. Yet when it comes time to sail to windward, we’re able to drop the board and point much higher than we otherwise would’ve been able to with the shoal draft keel alone. This can shave miles off long passages and minimizes the number of tacks required in a tight channel.

Additionally, dropping the centerboard just a little bit can give us much better handling in tight quarters, as it prevents the bow from falling off downwind when trying to dock in strong crosswinds.

This all sounds pretty good, right? Why would you not want a boat with a centerboard?

What are the issues with centerboards?

With all the apparent benefits, you’d think the centerboard would be a no-brainer. And if you’re purely concerned with performance, then absolutely, it is. However, the centerboard represents an added layer of complexity that just isn’t absolutely necessary for the operation of the boat. Along with this added complexity comes additional maintenance to ensure the system continues operating normally, and even then, when everything is operating correctly, the maintenance itself can create some stressful situations. Below are a few of the negatives of having a centerboard we’ve discovered so far:

General Maintenance

cruising sailboats with centerboards

Our centerboard is raised and lowered via a control line, or centerboard pennant. The line is always underwater inside the centerboard trunk, and is incredibly difficult to inspect. The line exits the boat below the waterline meaning we have an unprotected thru-hull without a seacock to close, should there be a leak. The through-hull is connected to a hose and the hose connects to a conduit in the mast that rises well above the waterline.

cruising sailboats with centerboards

The centerboard line runs through this conduit and then exits the mast through a sheave at the deck level. It then runs through a turning block and clutch/winch to lock it off. Each of these items require some level of maintenance and/or at least inspection on a regular basis. These are all fairly simple parts, and the system is quite well-designed. However you can probably already imagine some of the issues…

Stepping & unstepping the mast is more difficult

cruising sailboats with centerboards

Because the line runs through the mast, stepping and unstepping the mast requires a few more steps to ensure everything goes smoothly. When unstepping our mast, we need to temporarily slacken the centerboard pennant to allow the mast to be raised out of the boat. To ensure we can run the line back through the mast we need to run a messenger line in the mast to be able to retrieve it again when re-stepping.

When re-stepping the mast, extra care needs to be taken to ensure the mast doesn’t get hung up on the centerboard pennant or the conduit it runs through. We’ve heard of other boats stepping their mast only to realize later that they pinched their centerboard control line.

Naturally (or accidentally) slackening the centerboard pennant allows the centerboard to drop, increasing our draft to 8′, unless it’s secured in some other way. We did this at the start of our river trip by securing a line athwartship from each of the midship cleats to act as a set of suspenders to keep the centerboard pinned up inside the trunk. Unfortunately this wasn’t tight enough and slipped off the centerboard allowing it to drop into the fully-down position. This set us back a few days as we fabricated a much stronger system to secure the centerboard line using an exit sheave at the mast partners.

cruising sailboats with centerboards

The centerboard trunk is difficult to clean & paint

While our boat was hauled out, we repainted the bottom with CopperCoat . However we were unable to paint the centerboard or the trunk with the same. Had we known better, we would’ve pulled the centerboard immediately after hoisting the boat out of the water with the travel lift. But since it was our first time hauling the boat for storage, we didn’t realize that once we were moved to the hydraulic trailer which the yard used to position boats, we would not be able to get enough height to drop the board and remove it.

cruising sailboats with centerboards

We did hang in the slings over the weekend prior to splashing, which gave us time to get underneath the boat with the board down to clean the centerboard trunk and repaint the board and trunk with ablative bottom paint. But we couldn’t repaint with CopperCoat because of how long it needs to dry before being splashed.

The centerboard pivot point is difficult to inspect

cruising sailboats with centerboards

The centerboard pivots on a large stainless steel hinge. This plate is bolted into the keel of the boat and has a large pin that runs through the centerboard allowing it to pivot around this point. There is also a heavy duty stainless eye on the backside of the centerboard that the pennant line connects to. Both of which are always submerged in water, and while they are stainless, stainless corrodes in environments lacking oxygen. So these parts need to be inspected on a regular basis, and this means removal of the entire board, which is easier said than done.

cruising sailboats with centerboards

The centerboard can get stuck in the up or down position

The centerboard is designed to pivot up and down in the trunk with fairly small tolerances on either side. Any more space than what is needed to get the board out, and it will interfere with the flow of water over the hull, increasing water resistance and drag. Any extra space will also allow sea life to make its way up into the trunk.  Thankfully it’s very dark up in there, there isn’t much water flow carrying nutrients into that space, and we have been diligent about keeping it clean. While we haven’t run into this particular issue yet, we’ve heard of some boats that have had so much growth in the trunk that they can’t get the board to move.

While, we haven’t had our board stuck in the up position, but we have had the board stuck down. The centerboard is a hydrofoil, so the leading edge is a bit wider than the trailing edge, much like an airplane wing. And whereas dagger board trunks (where the board drops in vertically) can be contoured to follow the shape of the board almost exactly, our centerboard trunk is rectangular, as it needs to accomodate the width of the leading edge moving all the way through it. This means the trailing edge of the board (which is on the top when in the retracted position) leaves a lot of extra space between it and the trunk, creating a wedge shape… Maybe you can see where I’m going with this…

A perfect storm scenario can brew under just the right conditions. Imagine for a moment you are loosening the centerboard pennant line to drop the board down, but for one reason or another, the sideways pressure of the water against the board when sailing upwind, growth in the centerboard trunk, stops or slows the dropping motion of board — perhaps it even gets pushed back up slightly as the boat pitches forward and backward in a large wave. You, as the unsuspecting crewman, continue to slacken the line thinking the board is dropping, but in reality what is happening is the line comes to rest on the top of the board, and because of the wedge-shaped trailing edge, the line slips down ever so slightly between the board and the trunk, and gets trapped .  Once there it wedges in between the board and the trunk making it extremely difficult to move.

This has happened to us twice. The first was an easy fix, which occurred during a daysail after purchasing the boat. We could’ve easily addressed it without getting into the water, but it was hot, the water was clear, and despite being warned about this particular scenario, I didn’t have a good visualization of what was happening and wanted to see it for myself.

cruising sailboats with centerboards

There is actually a built-in mediator of this problem which saved us considerable effort: A short section of exhaust hose with a diameter that almost exactly matches the width of the centerboard trunk serves as a conduit for the last 18″ of line of the centerboard. This prevents the slacked line from getting wedged in too tightly and allowed us to break it free with a tiny bit of force.

The second time however, was much worse, and is covered in detail in Episode 24 . We were in the Illinois Sanitary & Ship Canal, in incredibly disgusting water with no visibility, and because we hadn’t secured the centerboard line properly, the board unbeknownst to us dropped all the way down, and under zero tension actually hung forward of its pivot point. In this position, the geometry for pulling it back up is all out of whack.  With the protective hose completely out of the trunk, pulling the control line, only wedging it further in between the trunk and the centerboard.

So is a centerboard actually worth it?

While we’ve been both super happy we have a centerboard and a shallow draft, we have also been exasperated by the extra maintenance, sometimes wishing we had a “normal keel.” But at this point we’ve circled back around to mostly ambivalent.  The maintenance while sometimes stressful is all part of owning a boat and the benefit of having a shallow draft when needed are immeasurable.

In reality, we probably only use the centerboard 15-20% of the time we’re actually sailing. If you think about the benefits discussed above, it’s really only necessary in moderate upwind scenarios, which we often avoid anyway. It’s just way more comfortable sailing downwind! We’ve also found in light wind conditions the extra drag created by the centerboard outweighs the pointing ability it generates, so we leave the board up. To top it all off, when we’re not actually sailing (which is most of the time when the boat is at the dock, at anchor, or hauled out for storage) the centerboard is always in the retracted position. For the actual lifespan of the boat, the centerboard is in the down position much less than 10% of the time.

On more than one occasion I’ve thought that I’d rather have a keel full of lead where the centerboard trunk exists now. It would give us added stability 100% of the time, we’d have no additional maintenance, and we’d only miss out on the benefits 10% of the time. However that 10% of the time could potentially make all the difference if we really needed to get off a lee shore. Whenever we are using the board — i.e. upwind especially in a narrow channel or maneuvering under power in tight quarters — we’re often saying to each other “Thank goodness for the centerboard!”

In the end, as with everything on a boat, it’s a trade-off.  There’ll always be pros and cons of every design decision. There isn’t one right design for every boat or every boat owner. Overall, we’re happy with our Tartan37c  and would not pretend to know more than the S&S design team who dedicated their lives to designing these spectacular boats.

Let us know what you think!

Do you have any experience with a centerboard? Did we miss anything? We’d love your feedback.

This ONE LITTLE THING could SINK our Boat

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About the Author: Kirk

cruising sailboats with centerboards

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We had a centerboard on our very first keelboat, a William Tripp designed Polaris 26. Sailing in Michigan on Lake St. Clair, it was a great feature as we could gunk-hole into all kinds of places. Our horror story was that we once forgot we had it down when sailing into a shallow bay and we touched and pivoted under a pretty brisk wind. That was enough to slightly torque and twist the centerboard foil such that it would only retract about 1/3 the way up before getting jammed in the trunk. We had to sail the rest of the season that way until we were hauled out for winter and the yard could bend it back flat. Our subsequent three boats have all been shoal draft versions, which opens up a whole ‘nother discussion of the merits of shoal keel versus deep keel on the same boat model. Fortunately, we switched our home port to Charlevoix 20 years ago, where sailing depths are almost never an issue on Lake Charlevoix/Lake Michigan/Lake Huron. As you said, everything is a compromise with sailboat design. We were glad we had the shoal draft when we delivered our current boat from Annapolis to Charlevoix last year. We draw 6′-6″ and we bottomed out three or four times in the Erie Canal (supposedly a 9′ controlling depth, but who’s counting?). The deep keel version of our boat draws 7′-6″, so we would have never made it back to the Great Lakes. We are eventually going to be bringing this boat back out to the Atlantic permanently when we retire and plan to cruise the Bahamas and the Caribbean, so even the 6’-6″ shoal draft is going to be less than ideal. But hey, if Delos can do it, hopefully we can. Best to you and Lauren.

Jeff W SV Échappé Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 54DS Charlevoix, MI

cruising sailboats with centerboards

Thanks Jeff, 6’6″ is the shoal draft?! We were so thankful for our 4’6″ draft in the Abacos. We could anchor in so many great places!

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Yeah as usual your videos and blogs are so helpfull to use on my tartan too, you guys are my teachers, when I bought the boat I had the problem with growth inside the trunk, I left the line loose by unexperience and in a sail trip it went down with the shocking waves, I didn’t know it happened and then on another short trip we ran aground because I didn’t know the keel was down. But after that it got cleaned and all works perfect, thanks!!!

Good to hear! Rest assured, if you’ve done it, we probably have as well!

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I had many maintenance issues with the centerboard system on my T 37. I managed to drift into shoal water while anchored with the centerboard half down – a position I often used to reduce roll. This resulted in breaking the lower 3/4 of the centerboard off. I recovered it and on next haul out, epoxied it back together and reinstalled it. Next haul out, the SS pivot assembly had a problem in the flange that received the pin – had to be re-fabricated. A couple of years later (I went way too long without a haul out from this point) the bolts holding the pivot assembly became loose and I was unable to lower the centerboard as the pennant was the only thing keeping it in the boat. Sailing with it up didn’t seem problematic.

It all sounds pretty familiar. I think we have a love/hate relationship with ours. 😉

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Hello and love your information, site, etc. Your trips are completely unique to me and the blogs and video are welcome adventures. Keep on cruising and writing. Please.

Centerboards: I was raised sailing all manner of boats with them. We had a 48 Alden yawl with a centerboard. I think it went down twice! We cruised Cape Cod, the US East Coast into the Keys, and Bahamas in that boat and all the reasons to have a board were apparent. I was a kid then and wondered why anyone would build a boat without a centerboard.

Then, I started racing and fell in love with deep draft. Our boat now is 32 feet long and draws 6 feet. Oh my, do we go to windward! We have raced a T37 (same handicap) and we out point him but he out foots us and usually finishes ahead. Cruising is not about hours of close hauled sailing. I get it now!

In our harbor and on the next mooring is the referenced T37 that I am coming to love. Pretty boat and shallow draft. Back to my youthful exuberance for a centerboard. If you guys find you way up to the Cape, I hope we see you. Look into Stage Harbor.

Norm Martin Averisera

Hi Norm, thank you for sharing your story. It’s interesting how some boats just reach out and speak to certain people. All the best!

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I have a membership in a sailing club with a collection of Capri 22’s that are not all identical. We have weekly races with them, where you show up and draw boat names out of a hat. One of them has a shoal draft keel, it is always the least favorite draw. Typically, while you might be able to point the bow upwind, it’s moving sideways far more than they other boats (regular keel versions of the same boat). But every now and then the wind is just right, and she’ll clean up, just own every race, but this is rare, relies on just right wind (5-10 knots) and tide conditions that allow her to get speed without being pushed leeward. Downwind, she also has a slightly shorter mast (several others also have shorter masts), but still usually keeps up. Possibly an advantage, but not sure. A centerboard would clearly help her upwind in some conditions. But it’s often going to be hard to really see those conditions without head to head comparisons and if your not caring you can just start the engine.

Sounds about right. That shoal draft boat likely does well on downwind legs given there is less surface area under the water.

We’re definitely not the fastest boat to windward, but we’re not racing. There some shoal draft boats that simply can’t sail upwind at all when the wind picks up. They have too much windage and not enough leverage on the water. We will hit hull speed at 30 degrees apparent in 15 knots apparent wind, which I’m quite happy with 🙂 All the best!

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A daggerboard is a centerboard, just as one is an integer and a whole number. If the daggerboard is off center it is a leeboard.

Is that so? I always heard it as a centerboard pivots and a daggerboard slides up and down. But I suppose your explanation makes sense!

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You guy’s are such centerboard rookies, but then again, most sailors are. I cruise the extremely shallow waters of the Southeast coast of the US and have always sailed centerboard boats for over 40 years, In fact my present boat is a Presto 36, a 18,000 displacement, ketch rigged, true or pure centerboarder, designed in 1884 by Ralph Middleton Munroe. I have no external keel at all, except for a 9″ X 6″X 12′ long lead grounding shoe, designed for “taking the Ground upright”. My draft, board up is 2′-6″ and approx.. 5′-6″ ” board down. The board weights approx. 400 lbs. My centerboard pendant, a 3/8″ super synthetic line runs upwards from the aft end of the centerboard trunk, to the cabin top via 1-1/4″ SS tube and is attached when it exits the top of the cabin, to a simple 6 to 1 tackle to help raise and lower the board. My centerboard trunk runs almost the entire length of the main cabin and has a 2″ dia. hole in it’s aft end. That hole and a short length of broom handle are extremely helpful for for coaxing a resistant board into going down as needed. I have spent many days pleasantly aground on a convenient sand bar, for recreation or maintenance needs and many a night secure in the knowledge, that no matter how busy the surrounding water are, I’m freed from the worries of getting “run” down in the night. Incidentally, I oft use the board along with my mizzen in assisting in self-steering. Never needed any auto-pilot. Up wind, she’s a drag, but any other course, with her sheets eased, she simply can’t be caught..

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My wife and I have a Bristol 35.5 with a centerboard. Our installation is much simpler than the one Tartan came up with – I was very surprised when I saw that yours comes up though your mast. Ours is on a wire winch on the cabin house that runs through sealed pipes over sheaves to the board. I’d say that the vast majority of the issues you’ve had with your board are due to that somewhat quirky design. That said, I’ve always loved the look of the Tartan, and you guys have definitely made fantastic improvements.

My wife and I thoroughly enjoy your channel and following your adventures. Keep them coming!

It is a bit of a quirky system, but running it through the mast is kind of a neat way to hide the control line, which needs to enter and exit the hull and deck. It does present some challenges, but it’s neat out of the box thinking. As you know everything on the boat is a tradeoff, and overall we’re extremely happy with the boat. Thank you for watching!

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Hi, how confident are you with the centre board in heavy weather … blue water … hove-to? We are going to look at a 47′ sloop with one tomorrow. I love our current smaller steel boat with a full keel but who knows …

Hi Melissa, Tartan 37s have sailed in every ocean on the planet, there have been multiple circumnavigations. As long as we keep the boat properly maintained, I have confidence in it. I don’t know what type of boat you’re looking at or what type of sailing it was designed for, but I don’t think there is anything fundamentally wrong with a centerboard. Good luck!

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We have a 79 Irwin 39 with shoal draft an centerboard, the pennant is mid deck and runs through the sole to cabin top” stripper pole” that is attached to the galley and also serves as handhold under way, the pivot is a SS pin that runs abeam and is puttied over, I need to remove this soon as there is a bit more play in this joint than I’m comfortable with, The boat is very tender and we are contemplating the best way to add ballast to the keel as it heels very quickly and carries a lot of sail. The centerboard isn’t very effective when she’s on her ear for limiting leeway losses . She draws 4’3″ up and 9’6″ down, I never thought about partially dropping to improve turning so am excited to try that when maneuvering around docks. I’m hoping adding some lead will make it less tender and will be pursuing this after haulout.

cruising sailboats with centerboards

Peter, sounds like you’re at the beginning of a fun adventure learning more about your centerboard and how it can improve the handling of your boat. It was a fun learning journey for us, and we really began to respect the purpose and design of the CB.

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I have a 1966 Morgan 34. The bronze centerboard has deteriatiated beyond repair. Especially in the hinge pin and pennant attachment area Draft board up 3 1/2 ft, board down about 7 ft. Bronze board is at least 250 lbs, about 5 ft long, and is a great template

1..Any guidance on where I can get a replacement , perhaps Foss Foam?

2. Is the weight important to proper deployment. Sure cranks hard..a challenge for an old fart to raise

Hi Capt Ron, sorry to hear of your CB woes. Unfortunately I don’t have any sources for replacement. Weight is important, the heavier the better, to an extent. You obviously want to be able to lift/lower it under your own power. At a minimum you need some weight at the bottom of the CB to prevent it from floating and get it to drop down and stay down while underway. But the more weight you can drop down there the better.

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Fast cruising multihulls: centerboards or daggerboards?

Avatar de Philippe Echelle

Article published on 21/07/2019

By Philippe Echelle

published in n°167 sept. / oct.

Multihulls World #167

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The case for centerboards by Sébastien Roubinet

cruising sailboats with centerboards

Sébastien is a skilled sportsman, an outstanding trainer, an adventurer of our blue planet – first ever transit of the Northwest Passage purely under sail with Babouche , three attempts to cross the Arctic with La Voie du Pôle - but also a super-creative naval architect and builder who doesn’t hesitate to innovate by following his own (often excellent) intuition!

The centerboard is articulated on an axis located at the top and forward edge of its profile (a quarter circle). Its particularity - and its advantage - is that it will lift itself in the event of a collision. Thus, the centerboard retreats as it rises, which, in my opinion, is a safety feature. To be really interesting, the centerboard must be combined with pivoting rudders that will also lift in the event of an impact. These two geometries of appendages really allow more freedom and security. To support my argument, here are three examples from my personal experience:

⁃   For fun: with my first catamaran De deux choses lune, a very lightweight 12-meter (39’4”) catamaran designed by D. Kergomard, we sailed in the lagoon of the Turks and Caicos Islands at 12/13 knots in less than 2 meters (6’) of water. We sailed serenely with the boards down, knowing that when the water got shallower, they would come in contact with the sand on their own. Similarly, as soon as it got deeper, all it took was a push of a lever for the centerboard to return to its place and we were off again on one hull. In short, the centerboard system allows you to sail quickly and calmly... even in very little water. ⁃   For “off-road” use.... Babouche, my first ice catamaran designed for the Northwest Passage, was also equipped with centerboards and lifting rudders (AND ejectable: two carbon jaws firmly grip the profile like pliers and release it in the event of a collision. Attached to a leash end, we could retrieve it and start again!). In northern Alaska, the ice was very close to the coast, and our route seemed blocked. Fortunately, there was still a few meters of open water along the coast. Forced to do some short-tacking in these channels, we needed as much board down as possible with a bottom that rose regularly. It is at this moment that pivoting centerboards (equipped with a system allowing them to descend on their own) play a role of sensor, warning us of bottom variations while remaining as low as possible. This advantage allowed us to use the full available channel width. ⁃   For me, the centerboard is by far the best formula for coastal rallying, going up rivers, sneaking into a lagoon, sailing in ice... or Breton creeks! In all these conditions, it allows you to sail much more serenely. When you see the damage that a daggerboard can do when in contact with an obstacle, you quickly understand the importance of the centerboard on an all-purpose cruising boat.

The three drawbacks of centerboards: 

⁃   less efficient for racing

⁃   they ...

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cruising sailboats with centerboards

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Sailboat Centerboard: Everything You Need to Know

by Emma Sullivan | Aug 5, 2023 | Sailboat Maintenance

cruising sailboats with centerboards

Short answer sailboat centerboard:

A sailboat centerboard is a retractable keel or fin located in the center of the boat’s hull. It provides stability by counteracting lateral forces from wind, allowing the vessel to sail closer to the wind. The centerboard can be raised or lowered based on water depth and sailing conditions, optimizing performance and preventing damage.

How Does a Sailboat Centerboard Work and Why is it Important?

Sailing enthusiasts and novices alike often marvel at the various mechanisms powering a sailboat. Among these, the centerboard stands out as an integral component, responsible for maintaining stability and optimizing performance . In this article, we will delve into the inner workings of a sailboat centerboard and elucidate its significance in enhancing your sailing experience.

So, how does a sailboat centerboard work? Essentially, a centerboard is a retractable fin situated beneath the hull of a sailboat, extending downwards into the water during navigation . Its primary purpose is to counteract the lateral force generated by wind pushing against the sails . This opposing force helps prevent excessive sideways movement known as leeway, allowing sailors to maintain their desired course more effectively.

A sailboat centerboard operates on the principles of hydrodynamics – the study of fluid in motion. When deployed, it increases surface area interacting with the water flowing past it. This enlarged profile creates resistance or drag that counters any tendency for sideward drift caused by wind force. By adjusting the depth or angle of the centerboard in relation to prevailing conditions, sailors can optimize its effectiveness in counterbalancing lateral forces .

Beyond mitigating leeway and maintaining course direction, a properly functioning sailboat centerboard has additional benefits that significantly impact performance and safety on open water. One such advantage lies in its ability to reduce heeling or tipping over of a boat under heavy wind pressure. As wind pushes against sails located above water’s surface—as it exerts pressure below—the upward force acted upon by lifting is minimized. Consequently, stability increases since there is less likelihood for excessive tilting.

Another crucial aspect wherein a sailboat centerboard manifests its importance pertains to sailing upwind—a direction slightly against or across wind flow. When facing headwind or diagonal flow positions relative to desired destination points—common scenarios when racing or maneuvering near shorelines—a well-designed centerboard facilitates improved progress regardless of adverse wind angles. By countering the wind’s lateral push, sailors can capitalize on much-needed leverage to navigate against or across it more efficiently .

For those seeking to explore shallow waters or navigate closer inland with their sailboats, the centerboard becomes even more critical. Its retractable capability enables sailing in relatively shallow depths without damage to underwater components or grounding the boat entirely. This versatility expands horizons for sailors, opening up new destinations inaccessible to boats lacking this ingenious mechanism.

In conclusion, understanding how a sailboat centerboard works and its indispensability allows sailing enthusiasts to appreciate the intricacies of sailing at a deeper level. By countering leeway, reducing heeling, enabling optimal progress against headwinds, and facilitating navigation in shallow waters, the centerboard plays a pivotal role in enhancing not only performance but also safety on the water. So next time you set sail , take a moment to admire this humble yet remarkable component that enables you to harness the power of wind while maintaining control and stability in your aquatic adventures.

A Step-by-Step Guide to Using a Sailboat Centerboard

A Step-by-Step Guide to Using a Sailboat Centerboard: Unleash Your Sailing Potential!

Ahoy, fellow sailing aficionados! Today, we’ve set sail on the vast sea of knowledge to explore the intricacies and wonders of using a sailboat centerboard. Whether you’re a seasoned sailor or just dipping your toes into this nautical realm, this step-by-step guide will empower you to harness the full potential of your vessel and navigate through the majestic waters with finesse and precision.

But wait, what exactly is a centerboard? Well, dear reader, it’s an essential component of many sailboats that aids in maintaining stability and steering control. Acting as a keel extension, this retractable fin-like device resists lateral movement caused by wind pressure, enabling your vessel to sail closer to the wind while minimizing drifting. It’s like having your very own aquatic co-pilot!

Now that we’re acquainted with our trusty sidekick aboard our seaworthy vessel let’s dive into our step-by-step exploration:

1. Preparing for Departure: Begin by ensuring your centerboard is clean and free from any debris or obstructions. A thorough inspection is crucial to avoid any unwanted surprises once we set sail . Give it a gentle wiggle (the board, not yourself) to ensure smooth operation before departing on your maritime adventure.

2. Deploying the Centerboard: As you start sailing into open waters with moderate wind conditions, it’s time for action! Begin by pulling up on the rope or handle attached to your centerboard hoist mechanism – watch in awe as the centerboard gracefully emerges from its resting place belowdecks. Now locked into position perpendicular to your boat’s hull, it will provide maximum stability and efficiency as we glide through the waves.

3. Adjusting for Optimal Sailing: Picture yourself at the helm—a salty breeze caressing your face—and now it’s time to harness the power of your centerboard. In light wind conditions, you may opt for a partially lowered centerboard to maintain maneuverability and optimize speed. An artful balance between depth and agility is key here – adapt to the changing winds like a true seafaring maestro!

4. Taking Advantage of Wind Changes: Ah, the whims of Mother Nature! As fickle as she may be, we sailors must stay vigilant. When facing shifting winds that feel more mischievous than helpful, adjusting the vertical position of your centerboard can make all the difference. Raising or lowering it incrementally allows for continuous optimization, ensuring you stay on course and glide through those unpredictable gusts with confidence.

5. Navigating Upwind: Now comes the real test of seamanship – battling against Beaufort’s breath! When sailing upwind against a headwind, our loyal centerboard becomes our trusted ally in steadying our vessel’s course amidst choppy waters or fierce gusts. Fully deployed and firmly fixed into place, it counteracts leeward drift while granting us superior control over our waterborne steed.

6. Docking Maneuvers: Alas, every voyage must come to an end eventually; however, docking your vessel need not be a daunting task. Ensure you raise your centerboard fully before entering shallow waters to prevent any unnecessary damage – closely monitor depth soundings using nautical charts or other navigation aids if available.

Congratulations! You’ve now become well-versed in unlocking the full potential of your sailboat’s centerboard prowess – from deployment to adjustment and everything in-between. You possess the knowledge required to navigate these majestic seas like a seasoned captain!

Remember, dear reader: Sailing is both an art and a science; mastering it requires patience, practice, and an unyielding love affair with the elements at play. With this guide in hand (or rather screen), go forth, embrace the wind, and let your sailboat dance across the sparkling waves – for you hold the key to unlocking unlimited horizons!

May fair winds and following seas guide you on your maritime escapades. Bon voyage, fellow sailors!

FAQs About Sailboat Centerboards: Answered

If you’re new to the world of sailing, you’ve probably come across the term “centerboard” at some point. Whether you’re considering buying a sailboat or just curious about how these vessels work , it’s natural to have questions. In this blog post, we’ll answer some of the most common FAQs about sailboat centerboards and provide you with a detailed professional, witty, and clever explanation. So let’s dive in!

Q: What is a sailboat centerboard? A: A sailboat centerboard is a retractable fin-like appendage situated at the bottom of the hull. It extends vertically from the boat’s keel to counterbalance lateral forces caused by wind on the sails . In simpler terms, it helps keep the boat from tipping over or being pushed sideways when sailing against strong winds.

Q: How does a sailboat centerboard work? A: When sailing upwind or reaching close-hauled (sailing as close to the wind as possible), the centerboard is lowered into the water. As air flows over the sails pushing against one side of them, it creates an equal and opposite force known as lift that pushes against the other side of the sails – this lift is what propels us forward! However, because not all forces act directly forward on a sailboat due to its shape and size in relation to wind speed/direction; there will always be some component trying move your boat sideways i.e., leeway.

The centerboard counters this leeway by providing extra resistance in the opposite direction, minimizing sideward movement while keeping your boat moving forward toward its target destination.

Q: Why are sailboats equipped with retractable centerboards ? A: Sailboats come in many different shapes and sizes designed for various purposes – racing, cruising, etc. Having a retractable centerboard enables sailors to adapt their boats’ characteristics based on different conditions. For example:

– Racing enthusiasts generally prefer deep-draft, fixed centerboards that provide maximum lift and minimize leeway. – Cruising sailors, on the other hand, may opt for shallow-draft centerboards to allow them to explore shallower waters without running aground.

Q: How do you operate a sailboat centerboard? A: Operating a sailboat centerboard is relatively simple. Most sailboats have a winch or handle located in the cockpit area near where the sailor steers the boat (the helm). By turning this winch or handle, you can raise or lower the centerboard. It’s important to keep an eye on depth sounders and navigation charts to avoid grounding when lowering.

Q: Can you sail without a centerboard ? A: While it is possible to sail without a centerboard , doing so will drastically affect your boat’s handling characteristics. Without a centerboard, your boat will be much more prone to being pushed sideways by strong winds, making it harder to maintain control and stay on course. So unless you’re experiencing very light winds or plan on drifting around aimlessly, we highly recommend keeping that trusty centerboard deployed!

There you have it – FAQs about sailboat centerboards answered! We hope this detailed professional, witty and clever explanation has cleared up some of your questions and inspired you to learn more about these fascinating vessels. Now go out there and enjoy the thrill of sailing while harnessing the power of those amazing centerboards!

Understanding the Mechanics of a Sailboat Centerboard

When it comes to sailing, understanding the mechanics of a sailboat centerboard is crucial. Often overlooked or misunderstood, the centerboard plays a vital role in maintaining control and stability while out on the water. In this blog post, we will delve into the intricate workings of a sailboat centerboard, shedding light on its importance and functionality.

Firstly, let’s define what a sailboat centerboard is. Essentially, it is a retractable keel that extends downwards into the water from the hull of a boat . Typically made from wood, fiberglass, or metal, the centerboard serves as an adjustable weight that helps counteract the forces acting upon the boat while under sail .

One of the key functions of a centerboard is to resist leeway, which refers to any sideways movement caused by winds pushing against the sails . As sails generate lift and propel the boat forward by harnessing wind power, they also create lateral force that tends to push the boat sideways. Without a centerboard or any other form of lateral resistance, sailors would be at the mercy of these forces and struggle to maintain control.

By deploying or lowering the centerboard partially or fully into the water column through mechanical controls located inside or outside of the cockpit area, sailors can leverage its resistance against leeway. The deeper it goes within limits dictated by draft restrictions and navigational hazards in shallow waters),the more effective it becomes at countering lateral forces .

To better understand this concept imagine yourself holding an inflated balloon filled with helium on an open field during windy conditions. As you let go of it without holding anything else down to oppose its ascent force (lateral force), you’ll find yourself watching helplessly as it drifts away directionlessly with no means for adjustment – much like being caught in uncontrollable leeway on a sailing vessel without utilizing a robustly designed centerboard.

Hand-in-hand with resisting leeway is maintaining stability. When winds gust up, sailboats can heel or tilt to one side. Centerboards help counteract this tipping force by relying on their shape and the water ‘s pressure against them to generate a countering force called “hydrodynamic lift.” The combination of the centerboard’s weight and shape creates an opposing moment that balances out the forces acting on the boat, keeping it level and stable.

Furthermore, when sailing upwind or close-hauled, sailors can adjust the centerboard angle relative to their desired tacking point for optimum performance. Lowering the centerboard enhances windward ability by reducing sideways movement (leeway) while also adding essential lateral resistance. However, in downwind conditions or when reaching (sailing off-wind), raising or retracting the centerboard minimizes drag and improves overall speed.

It is worth noting that not all sailboats have centerboards; some rely on fixed keels or other types of lateral resistance systems such as daggerboards. Nonetheless, understanding the mechanics behind a sailboat centerboard allows sailors to grasp its significance in controlling leeway and maintaining stability under different sailing conditions.

In conclusion, a sailboat centerboard is more than just a retractable appendage protruding from a boat’s hull – it is an integral part of navigating smoothly through open waters. Serving as both a defense against leeway and as a stabilizer against heeling forces, the functionality and adjustability of the centerboard contribute significantly to harnessing the power of wind for efficient sailing . So next time you set foot onto a sailboat with a centerboard system in place, take a moment to appreciate its intricate mechanics and remember how it enables you to enjoy your time on board with confidence and control.

The Benefits of Using a Sailboat Centerboard in Different Wind Conditions

Introduction: Sailing enthusiasts are well aware of the importance of efficient sailing techniques in different wind conditions. One of the key elements that can greatly impact a sailboat’s performance is the centerboard . A sailboat centerboard , also known as a keel or daggerboard, plays a crucial role in stabilizing and maneuvering the vessel while harnessing the power of the wind. In this article, we delve into the benefits of using a sailboat centerboard in various wind conditions, shedding light on how this ingenious mechanism can enhance your sailing experience.

1. Stability like no other: When it comes to ensuring stability while sailing, particularly in fluctuating wind conditions, nothing beats a sailboat with a properly functioning centerboard . This retractable vertical fin positioned beneath the hull serves as an underwater wing and helps counterbalance the force exerted by winds from different directions. As gusts barrel onto your sailboat unpredictably, leading to unexpected heeling or tipping moments, deploying your centerboard provides additional resistance against lateral forces and dramatically stabilizes your vessel.

2. Precise control over direction: Navigating through varying wind conditions demands precise control over the course you steer—the ability to maintain desired headings without being at nature’s mercy. A sailboat centerboard offers remarkable advantages in this aspect.

In lighter winds: When gentle breezes prevail, retracting or partially lowering your boat’s centerboard reduces drag and enables easier maneuverability. The reduced displacement allows your vessel to glide smoothly through calm waters with minimal resistance while maintaining flexibility in changing directions swiftly.

In strong winds: On those days when Mother Nature unleashes her full might through formidable gusts, deploying your mighty centerboard ensures superior traction. By plunging deep into the water column and increasing leeward resistance while simultaneously minimizing sideways movement or slipping (commonly known as leeway), you gain immense control over maintaining course integrity even amid powerful crosswinds.

3 . Harnessing upwind potential: As any avid sailor knows, sailing against the wind is a unique challenge that requires strategic skills and proper equipment. The centerboard emerges as an essential component in overcoming this obstacle effectively.

Maximizing lift: Sailors face the greatest adversities when navigating into the wind zone known as “close-hauled” or beating, where wind deflection and limited propulsion options become significant hurdles. Here, deploying a sailboat centerboard to its full extent unleashes powerful hydrodynamic forces beneath the hull’s surface. The increased lateral resistance resulting from precisely angled water flow over the centerboard generates lift—a concept similar to how an airplane wing rises—and enables your boat to maintain forward momentum compared to sailing without a centerboard.

Adjusting angle of attack: In varying winds, tweaking the angle of attack (AOA)—the orientation at which your sailboat intersects with oncoming air—is instrumental in maximizing efficiency and power. A retractable centerboard offers unrivaled flexibility in adjusting AOA by altering its depth below the waterline. In light winds, you can raise it slightly for reduced drag while still benefiting from sufficient stability. Conversely, stronger gusts necessitate dropping it deeper into the water column, optimizing both stability and lift generation.

4 . Enhanced safety measures: Sailing adventures come with inherent risks that can be mitigated through proper planning and equipping oneself with appropriate tools . A functioning sailboat centerboard acts as more than just an enhancer of performance—it also contributes significantly to making your voyages safer.

Preventing grounding: As many sailors know all too well, shallow-water regions or unexpected submerged obstructions pose threats to navigation safety. In such situations, swiftly retracting your centerboard reduces draft—the vertical distance between waterline and keel—allowing access to shallower areas without grounding your vessel .

Minimizing capsize potential: While no sailor longs for a capsize event, preparing for the unexpected is vital. A deployed centerboard positions a low, weighted portion beneath your boat ‘s hull, acting as a counterbalance against gust-induced tipping forces. This helps reduce the likelihood of flipping your sailboat and enhances overall stability, ensuring you and your crew stay safe even in challenging conditions.

Conclusion: Unleashing the full potential of your sailing experience necessitates understanding and capitalizing on every advantage at hand. The benefits accrued through utilizing a sailboat centerboard in various wind conditions are profound—enhanced stability, precise control over direction, extended upwind capabilities, and improved safety measures. So, next time you embark on a sailing adventure, make sure to give due consideration to this ingenious mechanism that can transform even the most challenging wind conditions into an exhilarating journey.

Top Tips for Maintaining and Repairing Your Sailboat’s Centerboard

Maintaining and repairing your sailboat’s centerboard is an essential task that every boat owner should master. This vital component plays a crucial role in the maneuverability and stability of your vessel, ensuring smooth sailing experiences. If you want to keep your sailboat running smoothly and maintain its peak performance, here are some top tips for maintaining and repairing your sailboat ‘s centerboard.

1. Regular Inspections: Prevention is key when it comes to keeping your centerboard in optimal condition. Make it a habit to inspect your centerboard regularly, preferably before and after each sailing season. Look out for any signs of wear, cracks, or damage on the board itself and the associated fittings such as pivot pins or lifting mechanism. By catching potential issues early on, you can prevent further damage or costly repairs down the line.

2. Cleanliness Is Crucial: Saltwater can be harsh on any boat component, including your centerboard. After each sailing session, make sure to thoroughly rinse off any saltwater residue from both the board itself and its hinges or moving parts. You can use freshwater or mild soapy solution for this purpose. Additionally, proper lubrication of the centerboard system will help prevent corrosion and ensure smooth operation.

3. Addressing Corrosion: Over time, corrosion may occur due to continuous exposure to saltwater or neglecting regular maintenance routines. When dealing with corroded parts of the centerboard system such as bolts or nuts, it is recommended to use penetrating oil like WD-40 (or equivalent) to loosen them up before attempting removal.

4. Replacing Hardware: If you notice any broken or worn-out hardware during inspections, do not delay in replacing it promptly. Whether it’s a missing bolt, damaged pin, or malfunctioning lifting mechanism – these components are essential for the proper functionality of your centerboard system.

5.Professional Assistance: Sometimes repairs require professional expertise beyond our own capabilities – and that’s okay. If you encounter any complex or major issues with your centerboard, it is advisable to consult a professional boat technician or sailboat repair specialist. They have the necessary experience and knowledge to handle more complex repairs and can ensure the job is done right.

6. Storage Considerations: When your sailing season concludes or if you plan on not using your sailboat for an extended period, proper storage practices are vital. Ensure that your centerboard – especially if it’s a retractable version – is well protected during this time. Thoroughly clean the board, remove any saltwater residues once again, and apply a protective coating such as marine-grade grease before storing. This will prevent corrosion and keep your centerboard in good condition until your next adventure.

By diligently following these top tips for maintaining and repairing your sailboat ‘s centerboard, you will not only extend its lifespan but also enjoy smoother sailing experiences for years to come. Remember, regular inspections, cleanliness, addressing corrosion promptly, replacing worn-out hardware timely, seeking professional assistance when needed, and proper storage practices are all essential aspects of keeping your sailboat ‘s centerboard in optimal shape. Happy sailing!

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40 Best Sailboats

  • By Cruising World Editors
  • Updated: April 18, 2019

the 40 best sailboats

Sailors are certainly passionate about their boats, and if you doubt that bold statement, try posting an article dubbed “ 40 Best Sailboats ” and see what happens.

Barely had the list gone live, when one reader responded, “Where do I begin? So many glaring omissions!” Like scores of others, he listed a number of sailboats and brands that we were too stupid to think of, but unlike some, he did sign off on a somewhat upbeat note: “If it weren’t for the presence of the Bermuda 40 in Cruising World’s list, I wouldn’t even have bothered to vote.”

By vote, he means that he, like hundreds of other readers, took the time to click through to an accompanying page where we asked you to help us reshuffle our alphabetical listing of noteworthy production sailboats so that we could rank them instead by popularity. So we ask you to keep in mind that this list of the best sailboats was created by our readers.

The quest to building this list all began with such a simple question, one that’s probably been posed at one time or another in any bar where sailors meet to raise a glass or two: If you had to pick, what’re the best sailboats ever built?

In no time, a dozen or more from a variety of sailboat manufacturers were on the table and the debate was on. And so, having fun with it, we decided to put the same question to a handful of CW ‘s friends: writers and sailors and designers and builders whose opinions we value. Their favorites poured in and soon an inkling of a list began to take shape. To corral things a bit and avoid going all the way back to Joshua Slocum and his venerable Spray —Hell, to Noah and his infamous Ark —we decided to focus our concentration on production monohull sailboats, which literally opened up the sport to anyone who wanted to get out on the water. And since CW is on the verge or turning 40, we decided that would be a nice round number at which to draw the line and usher in our coming ruby anniversary.

If you enjoy scrolling through this list, which includes all types of sailboats, then perhaps you would also be interested in browsing our list of the Best Cruising Sailboats . Check it out and, of course, feel free to add your favorite boat, too. Here at Cruising World , we like nothing better than talking about boats, and it turns out, so do you.

moore 24 sailboat

40. Moore 24

pearson vanguard sailboat

39. Pearson Vanguard

dufour arpege 30 sailboat

38. Dufour Arpege 30

Alerion Express 28

37. Alerion Express 28

Mason 43/44 sailboat

36. Mason 43/44

jeanneau sun odyssey 43ds sailboat

35. Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 43DS

nor'sea 27 sailboat

34. Nor’Sea 27

freedom 40 sailboat

33. Freedom 40

beneteau sense 50 sailboat

32. Beneteau Sense 50

nonsuch 30 sailboat

31. Nonsuch 30

swan 44 sailboat

30. Swan 44

C&C landfall 38 sailboat

29. C&C Landfall 38

gulfstar 50 sailboat

28. Gulfstar 50

sabre 36 sailboat

27. Sabre 36

pearson triton sailboat

26. Pearson Triton

islander 36 sailboat

25. Islander 36

gozzard 36 sailboat

24. Gozzard 36

bristol 40 sailboat

23. Bristol 40

tartan 34 sailboat

22. Tartan 34

morgan out island 41 sailboat

21. Morgan Out Island 41

hylas 49 sailboat

20. Hylas 49

contessa 26 sailboat

19. Contessa 26

Whitby 42 sailboat

18. Whitby 42

Columbia 50 sailboat

17. Columbia 50

morris 36 sailboat

16. Morris 36

hunter 356 sailboat

15. Hunter 356

cal 40 sailboat

13. Beneteau 423

westsail 32 sailboat

12. Westsail 32

CSY 44 sailboat

10. Alberg 30

island packet 38 sailboat

9. Island Packet 38

passport 40 sailboat

8. Passport 40

tayana 37 sailboat

7. Tayana 37

peterson 44 sailboat

6. Peterson 44

pacific seacraft 37 sailboat

5. Pacific Seacraft 37

hallberg-rassy 42 sailboat

4. Hallberg-Rassy 42

catalina 30 sailboat

3. Catalina 30

hinckley bermuda 40 sailboat

2. Hinckley Bermuda 40

valiant 40 sailboat

1. Valiant 40

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  • Sailboat Reviews

New J/95 Centerboard Sailboat is Fit for Shallow Water

J/boats new shoalsailer redraws the playing field for fast daysailers..

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Given the grief that poor centerboard designs from the 1970s have caused sailers over the years, we were surprised to learn that J/Boats-known for its measured approach to the boat business (don’t let that radical backslash fool you)-put a centerboard in its new J/95.

Yes, swing-keel centerboards, those bronze, steel, or fiberglass foils that hinge from the keel like the blade on a Swiss army knife, are making a comeback. This is great news for shoalwater sailers who, for lack of other options, have tolerated decades-old centerboarders and the many ailments that plague them-corroded lifting cables, pulverized turning sheaves, and a thunk, thunk, thunk in the centerboard trunk. Fortunately for them, advances in materials and design have yielded a whole new breed of centerboarder. The J/95, it is safe to say, is not your fathers Irwin 38.

The last time centerboards were all the rage, through the 1950s and into the 1960s, it was because Northeast sailors didnt want to leave their good crystal at home when they raced off to Bermuda. In the Cruising Club of Americas (CCA) quest for a rating rule that favored velvet and walnut interiors, centerboarders gained a significant edge, and few boats took advantage of rule loopholes as well as the legendary Sparkman & Stephens-designed Finisterre. The boat achieved myth-like status in 1960, when owner and skipper Carleton Mitchell won the Newport to Bermuda race for an unprecedented third consecutive time.

When Mitchell died in 2007 at the age of 96, he was rightly hailed as a sailing legend. A one-time underwear salesman who married into a fortune, he served as a Navy combat photographer in World War II before pursuing in earnest a lifelong passion for sailing. In the decades after the war, he earned renown not only for his seamanship but also for his talent as a magazine writer, author, and photographer. The museum at Mystic Seaport in Connecticut holds his large collection of manuscripts and more than 20,000 of his photographs.

Today, Mitchell and Finisterre stand as icons from a golden era, doomed to an eternal afterlife in new boat marketing literature. But when J/Boats alluded to Carleton Mitchell and Finisterre in brochures for the J/95, we wanted a bottle of whatever theyre putting in the company watercooler. Except for a hinged keel and an inclination to float, the two boats are as alike as Neil Simons Felix and Oscar.

Introduced last year, the balsa-core J/95 is a lightweight, 30-foot daysailer with a plumb bow, twin-rudders, a sleek hull form, and a Spartan interior. Launched in 1954, 38-foot Finisterre is a double-planked heavy displacement racer-cruiser with a spoon bow, yawl rig, and almost swanky accommodations (the last three are all convenient CCA rule-beaters).

The reference to Finisterre is smart promotional shtick. The name offers J/Boats-and it is hardly the only company that has drafted on Finisterres fame-an instant connection to the sailors it seeks to entice with the J/95.

Like Morris, Sabre, Friendship, and the other makers of high-end trophy daysailers we reviewed in the January 2009 issue, the J/95 is aimed at recession-proof sailors who share Mitchells aesthetic tastes and passion for sailing. But unlike previous entries in this market, the J/95 sails in four feet of water and offers, in many ways, a saner approach to what dealers are calling “right-sizing.” (No salesman worth his salt would utter the more accurate word, “downsizing,” to a potential buyer of these boats.)

End of an era

The J/95 is the brainchild of Rod Johnstone, a man whose fairy-tale success is well known to longtime PS readers. Back in 1976, Johnstone built a fast little boat called Ragtime in his garage in Connecticut. It promptly trounced the local racers, who started asking Johnstone for their own.

At the time, Johnstone was an ad salesman for Soundings magazine and turned to his client Everett Pearson of TPI Inc. to produce the boat as the J/24. (The J is for Johnstone, the slash, were convinced, is meant to torment copy editors.) J/24s started rolling off the production line at TPI in February 1977. Bob Johnstone, the family marketing ace, left AMF Alcort (makers of the Sunfish) to join Rod as a partner, and crank up the boat sales to unprecedented numbers. Still in production, the J/24 remains one of the most popular sailboats in the world.

The mission for the J/95 is one of those hyphen-rich, have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too quests. Rod Johnstone wanted a wind-in-your-hair, but easy-to-sail weekender that catered to the huge population of sailors who must contend with depths of four feet our less. Being competitive in club or Performance Handicap Racing Fleet (PHRF), and, of course, a fantastically popular one-design class were also part of the dream.

“We wanted to make this a boat people would want sail, sail right up the river or creek, right up to their dock, sail in light winds, sail in 20 knots,” says Johnstone. “In my view, if you want to turn on the engine, this boat is a failure.”

When held up against the current crop of J/Boats, the J/95 is probably closest to the J/105, a popular one-design class boat launched in 1992. Both boats have similar deck layouts, and both feature a low cabintop and gentle sheer that give them good-looking profiles.

Although the J/105s deeper fin keel gives it a performance edge, Johnstone says that in brisk conditions, the J/95, with 2,250 pounds of lead ballast, can stay with the J/105 in a heavy-weather beat. Johnstones explanation for this sheds some light on why many CCA-rule boats remain popular as cruisers.

While the long bulb keel that is the norm in todays racing boats offers superior lift, it can create a pendulum-like pitch and roll and in a seaway. The J/95, with the center of ballast closer to the flotation plane, resists this tendency, making for a more efficient-and more comfortable-ride.

Of course, any of the J/95s gains during a rough beat are soon relinquished to the J/105s longer waterline on a downwind leg, but the point is made.

Compared to contemporary production shoal-draft boats, the J/95 has a key design advantage: twin rudders angled outward at 15 degrees. This means at least one rudder is always immersed, giving the boat predictable tracking, even when heeled. As pointed out in our February 2009 report on hull design, trying to steer the beamy Open Class-inspired hulls with a single shallow rudder can be maddening. In the most extreme cases, a modest puff of 16 knots sends the boat rounding up sharply to windward.

The price for the J/95s shallower draft is ultimate stability. According to J/Boats, the boat has a limit of positive stability of 126, well within the minimum of 120 recommended for offshore racing and fine for daysailing. The 200-pound centerboard doesn’t lock down, but should the board kick up in a grounding or crash downward a 160-degree capsize, it will connect with the soft lead keel and cause no harm to the hull. J/Boats said such an event would not damage the hull. (With our insurance premiums being what the are, we did not test this feature.)

Deck Layout

J/Boats has had plenty of practice pondering deck layouts on race boats, and those same details translate well to any good daysailer. As Johnstone points out, the features that bring efficiency on the race course-broad sidedecks, ergonomic cockpit layout, plenty of mechanical advantage-are equally kind to a titanium knees and hips.

“It just makes me sad to see people I know-friends, no less!-going out and getting power boats because they feel that they can’t sail anymore,” Johnstone grumbles. “And then they realize, too late sometimes, that they have to put up with all that noise.”

New J/95 Centerboard Sailboat is Fit for Shallow Water

During the design phase, there was some discussion over tiller versus wheel. J/purists might clamor for a tiller, especially those bent on racing, but at what price? Cockpit space would suffer. Comfort and convenience, too.

The 44-inch Edson wheel fits nicely into the wide T-shaped aft section. Two angled chocks provide footing on a heel, and we found the windward rail to be a comfortable spot on a close reach. The transom is open, and the boat we sailed had an optional removable transom-seat locker. Even with the seat-locker in place, theres room behind the wheel.

The cockpit seats arent long enough for snoozing, and an extra inch of back support would be nice, but all in all, the cockpit caters well to crew comfort under way. The seats inside edges are angled upward slightly to anchor the tush, and the seat lockers offer ample space for sail and gear storage. The broad flat coaming is as comfortable a perch as the cockpit seats themselves. Owners can opt for either a full length toerail or one that ends forward of the cockpit. Teak is an option, but one of the appeals of the boat is its ease of maintenance.

The Harken sail controls are geared for minimal effort. The mainsheet (5:1-ratio with a 10:1-ratio fine-tuning adjustment), rides in front of the steering binnacle on an easily-trimmed traveler (4:1-ratio). A Hall Spars Quick Vang (5:1 ratio) handles boom tension.

The jibsheets lead to two 40.2STA two-speed self-tailing winches. The helmsman can easily trim the mainsheet from the windward rail, while the jib sheet winches are placed so that the trimmer can comfortably face forward. Casually seated on the coaming just in front of the wheel, the single-hander can tweak both the main and jib sheets.

The standard working jib is a roller-furling 105 that tacks easily through the foretriangle and leads to a jib track inside the shrouds. We kept the leads pinned just aft of the shrouds during the test sail and saw no need to change them. For PHRF racing, a second track is installed to handle the 150 genoa. (The boats PHRF rating is about 109.)

A Harken 32.2 two-speed self-tailing winch and a gang of three Spinlock rope clutches on the port side of the companionway tame the halyards and the centerboard. We didnt need the winch (or anti-inflammatories) to raise the centerboard, as the 5:1-ratio block and tackle gave plenty of mechanical advantage.

Passage fore and aft is wide and clear of obstructions, with stainless-steel handrails on the coachroof adding security. Eight-inch stainless steel cleats and a modest anchor locker round out the very functional deck layout.

Interior and Systems

With the J/95s emphasis on nice lines and a functional deck layout, its no surprise that the accommodations get the short shrift. Though its billed as a weekender, we call it a daysailer.

For boat camping, the layout takes care of the bare essentials. Two settee berths in the main cabin offer room to recline, but headroom, even when sitting, is tight. A Raritan head (served by a 14-gallon holding tank) shares space with a V-berth forward. A forward hatch and two ports keep the cabin aired out.

There is no nav station or galley, not even a stove, although hull No. 1 was equipped with AC shorepower and a microwave oven. A 48-quart cooler or a portable 12-volt Waeco fridge ( PS , May 2007) tucks aft of the port settee. An optional Group 27 house battery will keep the fridge running for a long day without charging.

Optional water tankage is in a 20-gallon bladder that feeds a pressure pump in the head and a cockpit shower. Fuel is in a 15-gallon tank beneath the port cockpit locker. PS generally prefers aluminum tanks for this purpose, but for a tank this small, a baffled polyethylene tank is a tolerable substitute.

The two-cylinder 14-horsepower Yanmar with a saildrive and Flex-O-Fold prop sits beneath slide-out companionway steps. Access is good except for servicing the water and primary fuel filters, when you need to make an awkward reach through a bulkhead cutout. J/Boats says it has worked closely with Yanmar to insure that the saildrive is protected from any galvanic corrosion. Regardless, engine zincs bear watching.

Now for the downers: Like some other Open Class imitators (Beneteau First 10R comes to mind), J/Boats hasn’t yet sorted out how to drain the boats shallow bilge without a sponge. The narrowest electric pump doesn’t fit into the tight squeeze in the sump. It sits on a riser pad, which means the last three inches of water make for an inviting frog pond.

To complicate matters, the hose on our test boats manual pump wheezed at a leaky hose union, rendering the pump useless. A leaky union-or any union at all-in an emergency bilge hose is not the sort of thing wed expect from J/Boats. (The local J/Boat dealer assured us this problem would be fixed immediately.)

We also took issue with the bilges drainage system. A single limber hole less than 3/4-inch in diameter separates the back section of the hull from the main bilge sump. Should a cockpit locker open in a knockdown and seawater flood the aft compartment, most of the water wouldnt reach the pumps until it flowed through that thimble-sized limber hole. In our view, the boat should either have freer flowing limber holes or a pump to serve each large compartment.

Finally, J/Boats was asleep at the wheel when they addressed the emergency tiller on our test boat. There was no dedicated place to stow the tiller, and the deck key used to install it was found in the cabin below, instead of with the tiller. Installed, the rudder worked fine, much better than others weve ranted about.


We test sailed hull No. 10 in the Gulf of Mexico off of Naples, Fla. The boat was equipped with racing cut Doyle Technora sails: a partially battened mainsail and a roller-furling 105 genoa. A 680-square-foot asymmetrical spinnaker can fly from the retractable bowsprit, but with squalls to the east and just two people on board, this spinnaker stayed in the forepeak.

New J/95 Centerboard Sailboat is Fit for Shallow Water

True wind was from the east at 6-8 knots with gusts to about 17 knots when the rain came. Seas were 1-2 feet.

Under power at 2,800 RPM, the boat averaged 6 knots and at 3,250 RPM 7 knots. At wide open throttle in flat water, it held 7.4 knots. Handling under power with the twin rudders was excellent. With the centerboard up or down, the J/95 easily spun in its own length. Not only is this an advantage when docking, but should a crew member fall overboard, a well-drilled crew should be able to execute a near-perfect Quick Stop maneuver (see January 2010 issue).

On a close reach in about 8 knots of breeze, the boat averaged 5.3 knots and tacked through 92 degrees, including any leeway, with the board up. With the board down in about 12-14 knots of breeze, the boat averaged 6.3 knots and gained about 2 degrees to windward on each tack.

J/Boats advertises upwind speeds of 6.5 knots and tacking angles of less than 90 degrees with the board up, and angles better than 85 degrees with the board down. Based on the test boats performance, this is well within reach of a well-sailed, well-tuned boat. The fastest average speed under sail came when a squall brought about 15 knots of wind on the beam. With the true wind at 120 degrees, the boat marched off at 7.2 knots, taking the strongest gusts in stride.

In terms of handling and balance, the J/95 sailed exceptionally well, holding a groove better than many larger boats weve tested. Johnstone attributes the reliable helm control to the twin rudder design. Many good CCA-era boats, Johnston points out, ran into trouble when the wind piped up.

“On some of the old boats, and on many shoal-draft boats today, when the boat heels over, there just isn’t enough rudder in the water for it to do its job,” says Johnstone. “The twin rudders are key to making this design work.”

Board up or board down, the boat handled gusts extremely well, never once heeling excessively or fighting to round up. Close hauled and reaching, the boat balanced superbly, and even with the wind aft of the beam and the sails trimmed for speed, the helm delivered finger-tip control.

Although we could point the boat slightly higher with the 200-pound centerboard lowered, the most noticeable effect of lowering the board was a stiffer ride and a reduced angle of heel.

Given the anemic state of the new sailboat market, J/Boats initially expected to sell one J/95 a month until buyers hopped off the fence. Nine months into production, the company was on hull No. 18, and interest in the boat doesn’t show any sign of waning soon.

Its success can be partly attributed to the J/Boat name and the southward migration of aging Boomers, who are settling into retirement homes on the shallow estuaries of Florida and the Carolinas. No question, if you are a shallow-water sailor looking for a high-performance daysailer thats easy to sail right from your backyard dock, the J/95 has few peers. Whether the model takes off as a one-design fleet or the thin-water sailors preferred PHRF boat will depend on what the future holds.

One question mark is price. True, a bronze centerboard adds significant construction costs (about $15,000 according to Rod Johnstone), but a $180,000 day boat with camp-style amenities is a not our idea of a contender in the one-design realm. And if we were going to pay big money to pursue our passion, wed expect to see a little more attention to detail from the builder.

A second potential hurdle is the allure of a multihull. The Corsair Dash, reviewed in the May 2010 issue, is also well-adapted to shallow water, and goes for less than half the price of the J/95. The two are very different animals, but if a brisk high-performance ride in shallow water is your goal, multihulls have a strong appeal.

Over the long haul, the boat should hold its value well. J/Boats remains one of the most recognized names in performance sailing, and even some race scarred veterans hold their own on the used boat market. No, the J/95 is not Finisterre , but given our own experiences in the Gulf of Mexico, its an exciting option for a wide range of shallow-water sailors-not just the greybeards inspired by Carleton Mitchells exploits.

Bottom line: We like the J/95 concept, and its performance, even with the centerboard raised, is remarkable. Fitting out details could be improved, but we imagine the company will quickly address most of our gripes, which are not expensive fixes.

The J/Boats marketing allusion to Finisterre is just silly, but we suspect that if Mitchell were alive today, he would like the J/95s mission. As he confronted the inconvenient truths of old age, Carleton Mitchell, one of the most passionate and eloquent champions of sailing, spent his last years on the shoalwaters of Biscayne Bay, Florida … reluctantly driving a powerboat.

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What Is a Swing Keel?

What Is a Swing Keel? | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Daniel Wade

August 30, 2022

Swing keels are a robust and useful alternative to centerboards, and they’re common on variable draft sailboats.

Swing keels are retractable keels that are hinged in the front and swing into a slot called a trunk. Sailors lift and lower the keel with a crank, pulley, or hydraulic system. Sailboats with swing keels can reduce their draft for shallow water sailing or to make them fit on a trailer.

In this article, we’ll show you everything you need to know about swing keels and the sailboats that use them. We’ll go over the benefits and drawbacks of swing keel designs, compare them to centerboards, and cover the different variations you’re likely to find on common sailboats.

We sourced the information used in this article from sailboat design guides, sailboat plans, and from the sailing community.

Table of contents

‍ What are Swing Keels For?

Swing keels are commonly outfitted on trailerable sailboats that need low clearance. These vessels are usually longer than 20 feet and would normally have a fixed keel if they weren’t designed to be towed.

Swing keels are used in applications where centerboards are cumbersome or have insufficient ballast. Also, a swing keel allows additional ballast to be placed underneath the hull and around the keel trunk.

What is a Keel Trunk?

A keel trunk is a simple rectangular box located on the bottom of the hull. The box, which is open on the bottom and closed on the top, houses the swing keel and its hinge mechanism. The keel retracts into and out from the keel trunk.

The keel trunk can be located inside or outside of the hull. Some vessels have an external keel trunk that protrudes a few inches from the bottom of the hull and usually contains ballast for stability. Most swing keel sailboats have a recessed keel trunk, which is flush with the bottom of the hull.

How a Swing Keel Works

Swing keels, also known as lifting keels, are simple. They act a lot like a lever. The keel is contained in a trunk-mounted to the hull with a pin, which serves as a hinge. The keel is raised and lowered by a system of ropes and pulleys or by a hydraulic system.

Some swing keels are retracted into the trunk using a crank. This system is common on some Catalina sailboats and has proven to be very reliable. These systems usually use a ratcheting pulley which can be locked in one direction for lifting and lowering.

The weight of the keel keeps it in the lowered position, but some vessels have a simple locking device to keep the keel in the down position. When raised, the keel or the raising mechanism is locked securely into place.

Swing Keel vs. Centerboard

Swing keels and centerboards are not the same, but they share some characteristics.

 Centerboards are distinguishable from fin keels because, unlike fixed fin keels, centerboards can be retracted into the hull. Swing keels may appear like fin keels from the bottom, but they also retract into the hull.

So then, how are they different from centerboards? Unlike centerboards, which must be lifted vertically out of the centerboard trunk, swing keels hang on a hinge and fold into the hull. Hence, they ‘swing’ instead of raise.

Benefits of Swing Keels

Swing keels have several distinct advantages over centerboards. Chiefly, swing keels don’t require a massive trunk in the center of the cabin or cockpit.

Most swing keels retract into a trunk located below the hull. Others retract into a trunk under the deck, and some require a small amount of cabin space.

Swing keels never need to be removed or lifted into the boat. Additionally, it’s physically easier to raise a swing keel. This is because the keel distributes some of its weight to the hinge, and lifting it is easier thanks to the physics of levers.

Additionally, swing keel trunks are usually sealed. This is good for a number of reasons—especially in rough weather. Water rarely floods a boat through the centerboard trunk.

But lifting out a centerboard can make a mess, and a pitching and rolling boat could allow water in through an open centerboard trunk. Swing keels don’t suffer from this issue, as the only hole they have is for the rope and block system used to lift and lower the keel.

Drawbacks of Swing Keels

Swing keels have a few notable drawbacks. For one, they’re not as strong or robust as fixed keels. They don’t provide the stability of a full or semi-displacement keel, and they don’t have the windward performance of bilge or fin keels.

Additionally, these keels still require a trunk, which can still take up cabin space on some models. The systems used to raise and lower a swing keel are prone to failure and add complexity where it otherwise wouldn’t exist.

Are Swing Keels Strong?

Swing keels are not as strong as fixed keels. This is because they’re usually smaller and lose rigidity at the hinge. Usually, the addition of mechanical complexity reduces the strength of a system, and that rule applies to swing keels.

A fixed keel can be mounted to a boat with numerous rigid bolts, whereas a swing keel is mounted to a pin and adds a level of complexity. That said, swing keels have an advantage in one respect, which we’ll cover next.

Advantages of Swing Keels in Shallow Water

Most swing keels swing down to the front, meaning their hinge is mounted forward. This is advantageous in shallow water, as it allows the keel to swing up into the boat instead of snapping off should the boat run aground. It’s like an automatic failsafe.

However, some swing keels lock into place in the lowered position. Sailboat owners should always proceed with caution in shallow water and lift the keel if the water isn’t deep enough.

Can You Beach a Sailboat with a Swing Keel?

One of the advantages of having a swing keel is that you can easily beach the boat. All you have to do is build up a bit of momentum, retract the keel, and head for the beach.

Sailboats with swing keels are particularly popular for island hopping due to their transformable flat bottoms. They can also utilize more seaworthy hull shapes than other shallow-draft vessels, thanks to their long retractable keels.

However, some sailboats with swing keels cannot be beached. If the keel retracts fully into the hull, and your rudder does too, you’re in luck. But if you have a fixed rudder, a prop, or any protrusion of the keel under the hull, you have to proceed with caution.

What Sailboats Have Swing Keels?

Dozens of different sailboat brands and models have utilized swing keel systems at some point. One notable and extremely popular example is the famous Catalina 22. The Catalina 22 is a trailerable coastal cruiser with a masthead sloop rig and a typical swing keel.

This small cruiser has a spacious cabin thanks to its keel, which retracts into a hidden trunk. The raising and lowering of the keel is performed by a pulley system and hides out of the way when not in use. The Catalina 22 keel is made of heavy metal.

The Catalina 22 is an example of a sailboat with a semi-hidden swing keel. The trunk only partially covers the keel, as the boat is designed for trailering—beaching abilities were not considered key in its development.

As a result, the keel swings up and still protrudes out from the bottom of the hull. But the swinging design gives the vessel a variable draft and a much deeper keel for stability. The boat otherwise wouldn’t have good handling characteristics if it weren’t for the swing keel.

Not all Catalina 22 sailboats came with a swing keel, but many of them did. It’s the most common boat of its type and a great example of the benefits of swing keels on smaller cruising sailboats.

Do Large Sailboats Have Swing Keels?

Large sailboats aren’t known for having any sort of retractable keel system. However, many ultra-modern big cruising vessels utilize some version of a retractable keel for performance and shallow water operations.

New sailboats that utilize swing keels usually do so for increasing hydrodynamic performance at high speeds and for reducing the draft of an otherwise deep keel.

For example, a vessel with a long 8-foot keel can reduce its draft to 4 feet or so when navigating a harbor and then extend the keel to increase performance offshore.

However, most large sailboats use fixed keels for strength, simplicity, and cost-effectiveness. This is also because most designers simply don’t bother with complex keel systems on larger cruising boats.

What are Swing Keels Made Of?

Swing keels are usually made of strong materials like steel. They’re extremely heavy, as they function as part of the sailboat’s ballast. Swing keels are typically made of a solid steel plate between one and one and one-half inches thick.

Some swing keels on high-performance yachts are made of composite materials like carbon fiber and filled with ballast, but this is exceedingly rare. Much of the sailboat’s ballast is usually internal on swing keel vessels.

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I've personally had thousands of questions about sailing and sailboats over the years. As I learn and experience sailing, and the community, I share the answers that work and make sense to me, here on Life of Sailing.

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My Cruiser Life Magazine

17 Best Sailboats to Live On + What You Should Know First

Many dream of living aboard a sailboat, but finding the right one can be daunting. There are many different types, and countless manufacturers have come and gone over the years. 

Here’s a list of 17 options – a sailboat for every sailor on every kind of budget. 

Best Sailboats To Live On

Table of Contents

17 best sailboats to live on, pros of living aboard a sailboat, cons of boat life.

  • Find Your Type of Boat 

Set Your Boat Budget

What size boat to pick, best liveaboard sailboats under 35 feet (< 35 feet), best liveaboard sailboats under 40 feet (35–40 feet), best liveaboard sailboats under 45 feet (40–45 feet), best liveaboard sailboats under 50 feet (45–50 feet), best liveaboard sailboats under 60 feet (50–60 feet), want to live on a sailboat, best sailboats to live on faqs.

  • Catalina 34/35
  • Panda/Baba 35, Tashiba 36a
  • Gemini 105MC
  • Islander Freeport 36
  • Passport 40
  • Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 42DS
  • Leopard 42/43
  • Beneteau Oceanis 473
  • Hallberg Rassy 46/48
  • Leopard 46/Moorings
  • Amel Super Maramu 2000
  • Privilege 585

What to Know First

So, boat shopping is a challenge, to say the least. Understanding where to start and what to look for comes down to understanding what you want to do with your boat.

Here’s a look at some pros and cons of living aboard to get you started.

  • Seaside living at a fraction of the cost of a waterfront home
  • Ability to travel anywhere by water
  • Ability to move anytime—not tied to one location/town
  • Different liveaboard lifestyle options to choose from: at a dock, mooring, anchoring, cruising (traveling)—tired of one, mix it up for a different experience
  • Small living space lacks storage and privacy
  • Limited resources: you must meter your fuel, water, and electricity use when not at a dock
  • More exposed to the elements and more affected by weather events
  • Seating and furnishings are less comfortable than in a house
  • Constant maintenance to keep the boat seaworthy and clean

How to Find the Best Boat to Live on Year Round

At first, you might think boat shopping is like looking for a new car. But when shopping for a car, you have a small pool of manufacturers and models to choose from. In the end, you might have five choices and already have an opinion about each maker’s quality and reputation.

Boats are different. We’re usually shopping for boats that are a decade or more old. The manufacturers may have gone out of business years ago. When you total up all the possible makes and models of each type of boat, you might have dozens of choices with brands you’ve never heard of. Yikes!

Find Your Type of Boat

There are dozens of types of boats you could live on, depending on where you want to live and where you want to take it. Most people shopping for a sailboat will choose between coastal cruisers, bluewater boats, and sailing catamarans.

Here are some of the pros and cons of these sailboat types. 

The Coastal Cruiser

  • Inexpensive compared to bluewater and catamarans
  • Perfect for dock living or near-shore hops
  • With modifications and the right outfitting, many have island-hopped the Caribbean
  • Many to choose from, and often they are lightly used
  • Designs are often race-inspired and faster than typical heavy bluewater boats
  • Newer, bigger boat for your money
  • Often production boats have low-quality, lightweight builds

Related: Best Trailerable Sailboats

The Bluewater Sailboat

  • The best bluewater cruising sailboats are capable of going anywhere
  • Built to last and take anything
  • Give the most comfortable ride in rough conditions
  • Newer examples are expensive
  • Good ones sell quickly
  • Older vessels may be tired and in need of an extensive refit
  • Often lack the living space that coastal cruisers have—narrower beams and transoms

The Catamaran

  • Cruising cats have the maximum living space, especially cockpit dining and upper salon
  • Light-filled with plenty of airflow, perfect for the tropics and living at anchor
  • Larger models (40+ feet) are bluewater boats capable of going nearly anywhere
  • A shallower draft than most monohulls allows for more cruising and anchoring choices
  • More expensive to purchase, keep, and maintain than similar-sized monohulls  
  • The most in-demand vessels, prices are high and good ones sell fast 
  • Sometimes hard or expensive to find dock space and boatyards that can haul it out for maintenance

Still unsure which side of the monohull vs. catamaran debate you’re on? Try to get aboard some boats and experience the living space first-hand.

17 Best Sailboats To Live On + What You Should Know First

Everyone has a budget when going boat shopping, even if you’re Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk. Establishing how much you can spend on your boat is the biggest factor that will affect your decision, and it’s the backbone for all other decisions. 

You must understand just how much boat costs increase as the size of boat increases. Boats are already expensive, and the average cost of owning and buying a liveaboard sailboat varies dramatically. But when the boat gets bigger, it needs bigger hardware, lines, rigging, sails, motors…everything. And bigger means more expensive, so these costs add up fast.

And then there are your storage and boat maintenance costs, all of which are charged per foot. The marina might charge you $15 per foot/per month for a dock slip, and the boatyard will similarly charge you per foot to haul and store the boat. Divers charge per foot for bottom cleaning, as do detailers for annual compounding and waxing of the hull.

When it comes to budgeting, there are two rules of thumb. 

  • Always pick the smallest boat you can comfortably live on.
  • If you have an amount budgeted for your boat purchase, spend half on the boat and save the other half for outfitting and maintenance.

As you’ll see below, boats can be grouped by price and size. When you go up in size, you go up in price—often by a lot.

The size of the boat is a factor of your budget, but also of how big a boat you can handle. Most people believe this means driving it and maneuvering it, which is true to some extent. But a good training captain can teach you what you need to know to drive any size boat in just a few sessions. 

No, the size of the boat you can manage refers more to how much maintenance you want to do. The bigger the boat, the more complex and plentiful its systems. There’s more to break on a bigger boat, and more things broken means more time fixing things.

Catamarans compound this by doubling a lot of the systems. Two engines, two saildrives, two hulls to wax, two hulls to bottom paint—you get the idea.

Another factor you should consider early on is getting insurance. Yacht insurance has gotten harder and harder to get in recent years. If you’ve never owned a boat and have no experience, you might be forced to get something small (think an under 30-foot daysailor) to get some experience on before you move up. It’s also difficult because many underwriters won’t write policies for liveaboards. 

As a general rule of thumb, most people will find boats under 35 feet too small to live on full-time. Most of these vessels don’t even have standing headroom. There is often only a “wet head,” one where you take showers while sitting on the toilet.

Boats 35 to 40 feet are good for solo travelers or couples who don’t mind living in small quarters. The beds will be small and accessed only from one side, as in a v-berth or a Pullman-style berth. If there is one, the second bunk is likely only for the occasional guest. 

You’ll get better accommodations when you move up to 40 to 45 footers. The second bunk may be in its own stateroom. The main suite will have an island-style berth that can be accessed from both sides—a huge upgrade for most couples. The head will likely have a separate, enclosed shower. This size sailing yacht makes a good liveaboard sailboat for most boaters.

Boats bigger than 45 feet are best for bigger families. If you often travel with kids or guests, these are the boats for you. They’re extremely spacious and make boat living easy, but the extra maintenance and cost may not be worth it.

The List — Best Sailboats to Live Aboard

All lists, whether found in internet blogs or international sailing magazines, have issues. There’s no one list to rule them all because there are simply too many different boats out there. And everyone uses their boat differently, so the “best” for you might be a terrible choice for me. Different boats for different folks, so to say.

So, what’s the deal with this list? It’s made from personal experience of having seen a lot of boats out cruising. And it’s a list that tries to put aside the fantasies—Oysters and Gunboats are pretty in magazines, but like Ferraris, not many of us will ever own one. So let’s look at some practical boats that fill each size category. 

For every boat on this list, a dozen or more could’ve been included. Use these models to research brands and see which sizes suit your needs.

Boats under 35 feet tend to be best suited for solo travelers or couples comfortable living in small spaces. As always, coastal cruisers in this class have much more space than bluewater boats do. Catamarans in this class are also coastal cruisers—you need more length and volume to get real bluewater performance out of a cat. No matter which type of boat you’re looking at here, storage space on this size of liveaboard boat will be limited.

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Coastal Cruiser Under 35 — Catalina 34/35

If you want to move aboard, you’re on a budget, and you want the most space you can get, it’s really hard to beat an older Catalina. Starting with the Catalina 30, these beamy boats have a surprising interior volume. They make great first liveaboards.

Bluewater Sailor Under 35 — Panda/Baba 35, Tashiba 36

The famous yacht designer Bob Perry drew these Taiwanese-built boats, all tracing their lineage to the older Tayana 37 . They’re updated slightly and built by different yards, but all full keels with cutaways and built for bluewater cruising. They all have gorgeous teak joinery and are comfortable and forgiving at sea. 

Catamaran Under 35 — Gemini 105MC

The Gemini 105M and 105MC were arguably the most popular cat models ever. They’re American-built, with a single diesel engine and a narrow beam that allows them to be parked in a standard boat slip. In the US, this means many more marina choices if that’s how you roll. The boat has centerboards and kick-up rudders, so the board-up draft is a scant 18 inches—gunkholing perfection. 

While some Geminis have crossed oceans, they aren’t made for it. They have average (sometimes below-average) build quality and fiberglass work. However, they’re perfect coastal cruisers and capable of heading into The Bahamas.

The Gemini should be on your shortlist if you’re looking for a cheap catamaran .

Runner Up: PDQ 32

Are you looking for a small cat with better build quality? They didn’t make many of them, but the PDQ 32 is what you seek. It’s an attractive small catamaran with a wider beam. It came with twin outboards in wells, but the LRC (long-range cruiser) option had inboard diesels.

best liveaboard sailboats under 40 feet

Forty feet is the sweet spot for most cruising couples—big enough to be comfortable and carry enough provisions but small enough that handling and maintenance are manageable. This class of boat has a lot of excellent choices in both coastal cruiser and bluewater boats, making it a good size range to find the perfect affordable liveaboard sailboat.

The catamaran group from 35 to 40 feet has a few very popular choices, but they are right on the edge of being too small for most cruisers. Counterintuitively, these cats are perfect for couples who don’t mind downsizing and traveling lightly. These shorter cats are prone to hobby horsing and don’t provide as comfortable a ride in bluewater as slightly longer cats do. 

Coastal Cruiser Under 40 — Islander Freeport 36

The Islander brand is no longer around, but these California-built production boats from the 1970s and 80s were well-built and well-liked. The I32 and I36 were very popular cruising boats designed by Bob Perry. The Freeport 36 is a before-its-time European deck salon with enormous windows. The swing-down swim platform is another bonus for a boat from this era, as are the Pullman-style berth and forepeak-located head (some layouts). If you can find one in good condition, these boats make excellent liveaboards. 

Bluewater Sailor Under 40 — Passport 40

Yet another boat from the desk of Bob Perry, the Passport 40, is a sharp-looking aft-cockpit bluewater cruiser from one of the best yards in Taiwan. They feature a long fin keel and skeg-mounted rudder. Everything about this sloop is just right for long-term cruising.

Catamaran Under 40 — Prout 38

The Prout 38 traces its heritage back to the earlier Prout Snowgoose. The boat is still being made, now under the Broadblue brand. It’s a sturdy British-built cat made for serious offshoring. While it lacks some of the open feeling that newer charter boats have, it more than makes up for it with its robust and high-quality build.

Runner Up: Leopard 40 (2005-2009)

This early L40 (don’t get confused with the newer ones built around 2020) was designed by famous multihull designers Morelli and Melvin. It’s got more of the things you might expect from your typical charter cat: a sliding salon door, galley-up layout, and a huge walk-through cockpit.

While this seems a small step up from the size of boats above, prices increase rapidly above the 40-foot mark. At this point, the boat’s gear needs to be bigger and heavier, from all the lines and rigging to each block and winch. Engines are now larger four-cylinder diesels, and there’s much more hull area to clean and paint. 

A 45-foot coastal cruiser has enough space to keep a small family happy for short trips or a couple happy for any length of time. These boats usually have island berths in a spacious master bedroom, so no more crawling over each other just to go to the bathroom! Bluewater boats in this class are a little smaller inside, making them just right for most couples doing a long-term cruise.

As far as catamarans go, the 40 to 45-foot range is the perfect sweet spot for most cruising couples. A spacious interior plus excellent seakeeping abilities make these top picks. There are tons of boat choices out there, and most of the best cruising catamarans come from this size group.

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Coastal Cruiser Under 45 — Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 42DS

Jeanneau is part of Groupe Beneteau , but their boats often have a more refined finish than Beneteaus. The DS stands for “deck salon.” They feature larger windows that let in more light and have better visibility than a standard cruiser. This is especially welcome if you’re attracted to the living space in a catamaran but need something smaller and more affordable. 

The 42DS also has an enormous island berth, plus a huge twin-helm cockpit with lots of space for entertaining.

Bluewater Sailor Under 45 — Hylas 44

The Hylass 44 is regularly picked as one of the best offshore cruising boats. It’s a center cockpit boat designed by German Frers.  It has a wonderful layout with tons of living space and a large, usable galley. The aft cabin has a large island berth with an en suite head. 

Catamaran Under 45 — Leopard 42/43 (2001-2006)

These early Leopard charter cats are highly sought after on the used market. Like all charter cats, the best finds are the “owners versions” with one hull dedicated to the master stateroom with en suite head and shower. The Leopard 42, which came out in 2002, had a soft canvas cover over the cockpit and was updated to the Leopard 43 with a hardtop. 

Above 45 feet is another big price jump. For beginners, these big boats will require some training and experience before you head out on your own. 

Related: Best Boat for Beginners

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Coastal Cruiser Under 50 — Beneteau Oceanis 473

This big Beneteau came with either 2, 3, or 4 staterooms. Finding the right layout is as important as finding the right boat. The two-stateroom version has enormous berths and lots of storage, perfect for couples with occasional guests or families of three. Most have the standard keel with less than a six-foot draft, making this fin keel/spade rudder boat a rare find. They were built from 2000 to 2005.

Bluewater Sailor Under 50 — Hallberg Rassy 46/48

Hallberg Rassys are well-regarded boats built in Sweden, mostly designed by German Frers. These are high-end boats of the best quality, so don’t expect to find one available cheaply. They’re gorgeous, however, and make wonderful world cruisers.

Catamaran Under 50 — Leopard 46/Moorings 4600 (2006)

If you want a big catamaran, it’s hard to go wrong with the 2006 Leopard 46. Where modern Lagoon and Leopards have tall profiles with tons of windage, this is one of the newest, largest boats that still have single-level living. It has distinctive hull chines that increase living space without increasing wetted surface and plenty of sail area for good performance. In true Leopard fashion, all lines are led to the helm for easy short-handed cruising despite the boat’s large size.

best liveaboard sailboats under 60 feet

Boats in this class are borderline yachts based on their sheer size. If you were to charter these boats, they’d usually come with a crew. That size means they’re more expensive and more of a handful to manage daily. 

Coastal Cruiser Under 60 — Irwin 54

The Irwin brand is long gone, but many examples are available on the used market. They were known especially for their large center cockpit ketches, like this 54-footer. This is a spacious, big water boat that certainly meets the qualifications of most bluewater boats. They can go anywhere, but they may need maintenance and refit given their ages. 

Don’t get to lured by the low prices of these boats. You’ll have to lay out some serious cash to get one ready to cruise long-range. But if you aren’t opposed to some hard work and projecting, the Irwin can get you a lot of boat for not much money.

Bluewater Sailor Under 60 — Amel Super Maramu 2000 (53′)

Made famous by the Delos YouTube channel, the Amel is a French-built brand of high-quality bluewater boats. Today, this brand’s new models look like many others—wide sterned, flat-bottomed sloops. But the Maramus that made them famous were unique—ketch rigged and ruggedly built, designed to take a cruising couple anywhere. Electric winches were standard on everything to keep such a large boat easy to operate.

Catamaran Under 60 — Privilege 585

Privilege is the French-made catamaran that you don’t hear enough about. Unlike Lagoon and Fountaine Pajot, these are beefy cruising boats ready to take you anywhere. Their construction and fit-and-finish are first-rate, as is the joinery down below. 

Living on a sailboat is an adventure—it’s not for everyone. Finding the right boat is an important part of doing it successfully, but it’s not the only step in preparing for the lifestyle.

You should also consider checking my post on liveaboard catamaran options, to make sure you research thoroughly enough!

What makes a great liveaboard sailboat?

Everyone’s priorities for a liveaboard sailboat are different—a bluewater cruiser looking to sail around the world might pick a very different boat from someone who lives full-time dock life. In general terms, you need to find a boat that is safely capable of taking you where you want to go and has enough living space to be comfortable while doing it. 

Sailing catamarans are some of the most popular liveaboard sailboats because their living space is unmatched. Most are also bluewater-capable cruisers that can go pretty much anywhere. 

What is the best size sailboat to live on?

The size of the boat you’ll be comfortable on long term is a personal choice that depends on your personality and the number of people you’ll be traveling with. Solo travelers may be content with a sailboat around 30 feet, while most couples are comfortable on something around 40 feet. Forty-five to fifty feet is more realistic if you often have guests or kind on board. 

With all of this in mind, however, it’s really important to remember that the costs of buying and maintaining a sailboat increase exponentially with length. Getting the smallest boat you are comfortable living on is always better because that will be easier to manage and keep in the long run.

What are the negatives of living on a sailboat?

People live on their sailboats differently, so it’s difficult to narrow down the biggest negatives. Everyone struggles with the small living space that a boat affords. You’ll have to downsize your possessions to the absolute minimum you need. And getting personal space away from your spouse or family is pretty much impossible on a small boat. 

Why are sailboats so expensive?

New boats require a massive investment in time and resources to produce. The nicer the boat, the more time and skill it takes to build, which makes costs soar. Some production companies, like Beneteau, have found ways to reduce production costs and keep the price of new boats more reasonable. But these boats pale compared to other yachts in terms of overall quality. 

Older used boats can be found pretty cheaply. In fact, it’s often possible to find free or nearly-free boats that are on their way to the junkyard or dumpster. The key is understanding how much work and money it will take to get these boats ready to go again. 

Is it a good idea to live on a sailboat?

Living on a boat is an amazing way to experience seaside living or traveling the world by water. But it’s also a unique, out-of-the-ordinary lifestyle choice that’s not without challenges. 

Before you move onto a sailboat, you’ll want to research the topic carefully and talk to some folks who already to it. Many people start with occasional boating, spending a week or more onboard to try it out. With a little experience, it’s easy to see if it’s something you could do for the long term or if it’s best to keep a land house and enjoy the water occasionally.

Can you live comfortably on a sailboat?

Many people live comfortably on sailboats, but a lot depends on the size of the sailboat and your tolerance for living in a small space. Even the largest sailboats can feel cramped, while some folks love the cozy feeling of living on the tiniest boats. 

cruising sailboats with centerboards

Matt has been boating around Florida for over 25 years in everything from small powerboats to large cruising catamarans. He currently lives aboard a 38-foot Cabo Rico sailboat with his wife Lucy and adventure dog Chelsea. Together, they cruise between winters in The Bahamas and summers in the Chesapeake Bay.

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